WASHINGTON -- In the second such action this month, a House energy subcommittee voted Tuesday to cite Anne Gorsuch, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for contempt of Congress.
Mrs. Gorsuch refused to provide the panel with 42 subpoenaed documents that President Reagan had ordered her not to release, and the subcommittee's contempt recommendation set the stage for a constitutional clash with the White House.
By a 9-4 vote, the House Energy investigations subcommittee approved a resolution recommending that the House find Mrs. Gorsuch in contempt. A similar contempt recommendation was voted against her last Friday by the House Public Works Committee for the same reason -- failing to deliver subpoenaed documents.
'I am personally chagrined that this subcommittee can't find time to agree on a clean air act, but they sure can find time to find me in contempt,' Mrs. Gorscuh told reporters.
House Speaker Thomas O'Neill said the contempt citations will be brought up in the House Wednesday and Thursday. The House has the power to impose a jail sentence of up to one year, assess a fine of up to $1,000, or refer the case to the Justice Department.
The subcommittee wants the documents for its investigation of whether EPA is enforcing laws requiring chemical companies to pay their share of cleaning up toxic waste sites at Tar Creek, Okla., Stringfellow Acid Pits, Calif., and Berlin and Farro, both in Michigan.
The vote was taken in closed session after a nearly five hour public hearing. It was announced later by Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., but the subcommittee refused to reveal how individual members voted.
In a statement released by EPA, Mrs. Gorsuch said, 'President Reagan specifically directed that these sensitive documents be protected from disclosure. I agree with that directive and shall carry it out.'
She later told reporters a compromise is unlikely. 'I really don't see a compromise. It's a matter of who has control,' she said.
'Do you refuse to comply with the subpoena?' Dingell asked Mrs. Gorsuch during the hearing.
'With respect to the 42 documents, there is refusal,' she replied.
'It is the opinion of the chair that you are without legal justification to refuse to comply with the subpoena, and that you are in contempt of Congress,' Dingell said.
'It is now all too obvious that what we are witnessing is the obstruction of an important congressional investigation, one which is essential to protect the public health and safety and to safeguard taxpayers' funds,' Dingell said.
Mrs. Gorsuch acknowledged that Reagan's executive privilege order was not based on national security or foreign policy considerations. 'The question at hand is the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution,' she said.
'Congress is not charged with the day-to-day involvement and prosecution of our laws. The executive branch has that responsibility and that responsibility rests ultimately upon the president.'
The last person to be cited for contempt of Congress was Honcho Kim, a South Korean businessman who was convicted for conspiring to bribe members of Congress on behalf of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. He was cited for contempt of Congress by a vote of 319-2 on Sept. 15, 1978.
Rep. W.J. 'Billy' Tauzin, D-La., called Reagan's executive privilege order 'whimsical.'
'It is so strange I believe the Justice Department could file for a patent and probably get one,' he said.