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Speaker to call oversight hearing on AB 32, ARB departures

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has scheduled an oversight hearing on the implementation of California's global warming law, following the firing of the Air Resources Board chairman and resignation of its executive director.

The hearing of the Assembly Natural Resources committee is tentatively scheduled for this Friday, according to Núñez's office, with officials from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, the fired ARB chairman Robert Sawyer and departed executive director Catherine Witherspoon all asked to testify.

In a brief meeting with reporters, video of which was sent out by the speaker's office, Núñez said the governor was "putting undue pressure on the leadership of the Air Resources Board."

"The only reason (Sawyer and Witherspoon) are gone is because clearly the administration was tying their hands behind their backs in not allowing them to do the job that they needed to do in order to begin the implementation phase of AB 32," Núñez said.

Calling the departures of Sawyer and Witherspoon a "huge setback" for the Schwarzenegger administration, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata said the state had lost "arguably the two most important people responsible for implementing and enforcing that law."

"I believe a lot of us are going to be very skeptical about who they put in to do that. It should be somebody who has at least the obvious skills as someone like Mr. Sawyer," said Perata to a group of reporters. "If they just put in somebody who looks like a caretaker or a rubber stamp of the administration, that's not going to go over so well certainly for any position that has to be confirmed."

Witherspoon, who resigned earlier today, told the Fresno Bee "I believe the governor cares deeply about air quality, but no one in his inner circle does...The day-to-day orders that we receive from the governor's office are to do less; to delay; to not burden industry."

She accused the administration of a "cover-up" in the firing of Sawyer, saying he was moving too aggressively on rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the administration.

Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director, disagreed: "The administration stands by its decision to place the leadership at ARB. There was not enough being done to clean our air and make the AB 32 requirements and we'll never get there without new leadership."

Núñez said he was more concerned with the implementation of Assembly Bill 32, the landmark greenhouse-gas emissions measure he co-authored in 2006, than with the particular appointees to the resources board.

"I'm more concerned about the administration playing politics with the Air Resources Board to keep them from doing their job," Núñez said.

"He can appoint whoever he wants," he added. "The one thing that I'm saying administration cannot do under any circumstance is to skirt the law of the state of California. The law the governor signed, AB 32, calls for mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. So far the early action items that CARB has undertaken leave a lot to be desired."

Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn has defended the governor's actions.

"The administration took action on the Air Resources Board because they were not moving in a direction consistent with what the governor is looking to achieve on protecting air quality and aggressively implementing (the state's new global warming law)," he said.

Mendelsohn said the administration would work with the speaker to "make sure they have everything they need" for Friday's oversight hearing. He noted that the governor "absolutely respects the independence (of the air board) but the ARB is made up of gubernatorial appointees."