WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of the Environmental Protection Agency and nearly a dozen staffers planned a two-week trip to Australia, prompting complaints from the chairwoman of the Senate's environment committee.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who has clashed with the EPA over clean air and global warming issues, on Thursday called the trip an expensive junket at a time the agency is facing budget cuts.
EPA head Stephen Johnson, 57, and a number of senior officials were scheduled to depart on Monday "to discuss shared environmental goals and challenges" with Australian officials, EPA spokesman Timothy Lyons said.
The group planned to visit Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, the nation's capital. Among the topics of discussion will be Australia's "innovative approaches to carbon sequestration, water treatment, methane capture, pesticide risk education and resource sustainability," Lyons said.
The trip came at the invitation of the U.S. ambassador to Australia, Lyons said.
Boxer bristled at the idea of Johnson flying halfway around the world at a time when she has wanted to get him to testify before her Environment and Public Works Committee on his plans to address global warming and other issues.
"If your goal is to learn about actions to address global warming, I suggest that you visit California, which has moved ahead aggressively with greenhouse gas controls," Boxer wrote Johnson.
Johnson has testified before Boxer's committee seven times since early 2007, the last time on EPA's budget Feb. 27.
In the letter Boxer demanded to be told how many people are going on the trip, how much it will cost, and the specific reasons for it.
"You will be spending a large amount of scarce agency funds and staff resources on such an expensive trip while the president has proposed a series of devastating cuts in EPA's budget for environmental programs," she wrote.
The administration's budget proposed a reduction in EPA's overall budget from $7.5 billion to about $7.1 billion.
Boxer has been highly critical of Johnson for refusing to grant California a needed waiver so that the state — as well as a dozen other states — can implement limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. She also has criticized Johnson for not moving quickly enough to decide whether carbon dioxide should be regulated under the federal Clean Air Act because of its global warming impact.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.