Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson (shown above) has found himself with few friends after denying California's request for a waiver to regulate its own emissions. The denial was issued shortly after President Bush signed the new energy bill into law, leaving some to wonder if the auto industry struck a deal with the White House - we'll give you your energy bill if you give us one national emissions standard to follow, i.e. don't allow California to set its own set of stricter emissions standards. How did the White House get involved? A few newspapers have reported that Vice President Dick Cheney met with each of the Big 3 domestic automakers in the months leading up to the energy bill's passage. Did Cheney order EPA chief Johnson to deny California's request against the unanimous counsel of his advisors? Who knows, but the appearance of impropriety is there.

Johnson, however, is the one who has to back up the decision to deny California the ability to set its own emissions standards. As such, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has invited him to the Golden State to explain his decision to an eager audience that includes Edmund G. Brown Jr. (Attorney General of California), Mary Nichols (Chairperson of the California Air Resources Board), Fran Pavley (Senior Advisor, Natural Resources Defense Council), and Carl Pope (Executive Director of the Sierra Club) – a truly hostile crowd if ever there was one. There will no doubt be other curious senators in attendance for this field briefing, scheduled for January 10th. Since it's just an invitation, we're fairly certain that Johnson doesn't have to go, but for his own safety he better not show up with the automakers' interests as his only justification for the controversial decision.

[Source: Senate.gov via AutoblogGreen, Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty]