Emails show EPA frustration over White House letter to Boehner

The 2011 emails were obtained by the liberal Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) under a Freedom of Information Act request. The letters were first reported by The Washington Post.

Dan Kanninen, who served as EPA’s White House liaison at the time, wrote in an Aug. 30, 2011, email that he raised concerns to Chris Lu, an official who is secretary of Obama’s Cabinet, about the letter.

“First, that we’ve spent a great deal of time and energy framing these rules with the public health and environmental benefits, and when and how they are driven by statutory, scientific and legal obligations, which the letter and appendix do not,” Kanninen wrote.

The 2011 letter from Obama to Boehner mentions the importance of developing regulations that, among other things, protect public health. But it does not include a substantial discussion of the public health benefits of EPA's regulations.

But Obama has publicly touted the public health benefits of environmental regulations throughout his presidency, including in his 2012 State of the Union address.

Kanninen continued: “And second, that in the interest of both accuracy and situational awareness tighter coordination would be ... appreciated and in this case would have avoided a fairy significant error."

The appendix to the letter mistakenly cited an out-of-date cost estimate for the boiler regulations.

In a subsequent email, Gina McCarthy, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said the costs included by the White House in the appendix to the letter are “accurate, but approximate.”

But she noted that the $3 billion cost estimate for the industrial boiler regulations was based on an April 2010 proposal. EPA later finalized a rule costing an estimated $1.4 billion, but the agency is reconsidering the regulations.

Kanninen wrote in an email that Lu said he “was unaware of the letter and its release prior to it going out the door."

But Kanninen said that Lu found his complaints to be “compelling.” Kanninen added that he believed Lu would relay the concerns to other White House officials.

The emails released publicly Thursday also indicate that EPA was not consulted on Obama's letter.

“Did anyone get any heads up on this letter?” then-EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara asked shortly after the White House released the letter to Boehner.

“We did not get contacted,” Bob Perciasepe, EPA deputy administrator, replied.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan dismissed the emails Thursday and touted Obama's environmental record.

"A handful of emails from eight months ago say very little about how we work with the White House as we take commonsense steps to protect Americans from harmful pollution," Gilfillan said in a statement.

"Under this President’s leadership, we have put in place some of the most important public health measures in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency."

White House spokesman Clark Stevens said the White House worked closely with federal agencies to review the regulations highlighted in the letter.

"The letter included an appendix which responded to the Speaker’s request for rules that met specific criteria. As a result, the rules in the appendix were from several agencies, and [the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] had worked closely with those agencies during the important interagency review process every draft rule undergoes," he said in a statement. "It goes without saying that the White House coordinates with departments and agencies across the federal government every day."

CPR’s Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland’s law school, attacked the letter in a blog post Thursday. CPR is a network of law professors and other academics that focuses on environmental, health and safety regulation.

"In a 19-sentence letter, the President managed only one sentence making the positive case for regulations ('And in 2009 and 2010, the benefits of such rules — including not only monetary savings but also lives saved and illnesses prevented — exceeded the costs by tens of billions of dollars.') The rest of the letter was playing on Boehner’s anti-regulation turf," Steinzor said.

"Most egregious was the Appendix, which provided a simple chart of seven regulations under development with annual costs estimated to exceed $1 billion. The chart did not include any information on the benefits of those regulations."

— Updated at 4:30 p.m.