- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

The White House has averted for now what would have been its first congressional subpoena by reaching a deal with a Senate panel on its request for access to environmental documents.
In response, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman yesterday dropped his threat to subpoena records detailing how the Bush administration decided to override several 11th-hour environmental regulations set by President Clinton.
Mr. Lieberman, the running mate of Vice President Al Gore in his failed 2000 presidential bid, believes the records will show that the White House ignored input from environmentalists.
"My fear is — and I will call it just fear at this point — is that the administration consulted with just one side," Mr. Lieberman told a Capitol Hill news conference.
But with the White House agreeing to allow what the senator called "unfettered access" to the documents, Mr. Lieberman relented. However, he warned the administration that subpoenas could still come.
"Our goal is, and remains, to get the information we need to conduct oversight, not to issue subpoenas or play politics," said Mr. Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Should the Connecticut Democrat decide he needs to take possession of the documents and the administration refuses, "we will not hesitate to pursue subpoenas."
The White House said the access agreement should end the dispute.
"It is important to continue working cooperatively and abiding by agreements, as opposed to resorting to the old Washington, D.C., ways of endless inquiries that do nothing to contribute to improving public schools and passing strong patient protections for the people," said Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
"I just can't imagine Senator Lieberman believes endless inquiries and endless investigations do anything to contribute to changing the tone and getting results for the American people."
The office of Vice President Richard B. Cheney said the White House's decision to allow access to documents will have no effect on its decision to reject a "demand letter" by the General Accounting Office for similar documents, listing people he consulted during compilation of a national energy-policy report.
"That's a different issue, with the committee chairman asking," said Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss. "We disagree that GAO has any legal underpinnings to request what they're asking for."
"In effect, what we're saying here, if in fact we were to respond to that request, is that any member of Congress can demand to know who I meet with and what I talk to them about on a daily basis," Mr. Cheney said Wednesday.
His spokesman said the two matters are different because the request to the GAO for documents came from members of a congressional committee, not — as in the case with Mr. Lieberman — from a committee chairman.
Mr. Lieberman began his investigation four months ago, focusing on three regulations issued in the last days of the Clinton administration: the Environmental Protection Agency's rule creating a new standard for the allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water, the Interior Department's rule protecting public lands from mining, and the Agriculture Department's rule barring roads and other development in parts of the country's national forests.
Mr. Lieberman's announcement came just hours before the House voted on one of those regulations. By a 218-189 vote — with 19 Republicans joining Democrats — the House blocked the Bush administration from delaying a new standard on arsenic levels in water.
Mr. Clinton waited until the final hours of his eight years in office to mandate strict new arsenic regulations, setting the standard at no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic in drinking water, compared to the current 50 ppb set in 1942.
The EPA in March put the Clinton standard on hold pending further study. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has not ruled out the 10 ppb standard but says more research is needed to determine whether it justifies its estimated annual cost of $200 million.
The House yesterday stepped in, voting to accept the new 10 ppb standard, with Democrats raising their rhetoric on the environment, an issue on which they have successfully hammered Mr. Bush in the media.
The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, said delaying the new arsenic standard would "ignore 25 years of research, cast aside extensive expert testimony, override official recommendations and reject the clear will of the American people."
But Rep. Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican, said Democrats were resorting to "heated rhetoric, wild exaggerations and sound-bite politics" to support "a very arbitrary decision based on questionable studies."
The 10 ppb level was strongly opposed by Western lawmakers, who said arsenic occurs naturally in their water supplies, has never been shown to be harmful at those levels and that meeting the standards would economically damage small communities.
Mr. Lieberman said the Bush administration has not been open about how it made its decision to suspend the last-minute Clinton standard.
"We don't know, and the public does not know, who they consulted … giving us legitimate reason to question just whose interests were being served.
"Much to my disappointment and, I believe, to the detriment of America's environmental and public health, the Bush administration decided to move to undo or undercut several of these critically important regulations."
The senator took issue with charges that Mr. Clinton enacted an unworkable standard in his waning hours to embarrass Mr. Bush.
"Critics have called these 'midnight regulations,' but they were anything but hastily promulgated. Each was issued after lengthy deliberations, which in many cases lasted years — in some, decades," he said.
Mr. Lieberman said he struck an agreement with the administration late Thursday that provides access to all the requested documents, avoiding a "constitutional and legal confrontation, at least for the time being."
Under the agreement, the administration would not turn over the documents to the panel but would give it "free and unfettered access" to them, he said.
The Senate panel would be prohibited from releasing information contained in the documents without first notifying the administration and giving it a chance to object.

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