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Stephen Johnson, The Environment’s Alberto Gonzales

By Brad Johnson on April 24, 2008 at 11:58 am

"Stephen Johnson, The Environment’s Alberto Gonzales"

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Stephen Johnson testifies before the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee

Alberto Gonzales brought disgrace to the Department of Justice as Attorney General, putting loyalty to the President above duty to the country, until the weight of numerous scandals forced his resignation in August 2007. As the New York Times described, he left “a Justice Department that has been tainted by political influence, depleted by the departures of top officials and weakened by sapped morale.”

Now all eyes are turning to Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — set up by President Nixon in 1970 to be an independent watchdog for the health of the environment and the American people. It has become clear that Johnson has subverted that mission, in contravention of science, ethics, and the law. What Gonzales did to Justice, Johnson is doing to the EPA.

On February 27, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) compared Johnson to Gonzales after a shameful performance before Congress. Two days later, unions representing more than 10,000 EPA career staff suspended their relationship with Johnson, citing his “failure to engage in good faith.” Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a survey of staff scientists documenting widespread political interference during his tenure.

The most prominent examples of Johnson’s malfeasance are under investigation by Congress — the blatant disregard of the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases and allow states to do so as well, and the overruling of scientific recommendations on smog standards at the behest of President Bush.

However, there are numerous further acts exposed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that are running below the radar:

– Refusing to enforce the agency’s “Principles of Scientific Integrity” involving fluoride drinking water standards, organophosphate pesticide registration, and control of mercury emissions from power plants.

– The shuttering of EPA’s network of technical libraries without waiting for Congressional approval in 2006 — to be reopened only with documents that undergo a political review.

– The abandonment of proposed rules protecting children and workers from lead paint in 2004 — rectified this March after years of lawsuits.

– Violating the Endangered Species Act in failing to consider the harmful effects of pesticides on Chinook salmon.

The common thread behind all these actions is service to corporate polluters above public health. PEER has also exposed increasing corporate influence on pesticide labelling, scientific research, assessement of the health risks of new chemicals, and even the drafting of rules to allow testing pesticides on children.

In December, EPA staff privately urged Johnson to resign if he denied the California waiver petition to regulate greenhouse gases. Last month, Sierra Club president Carl Pope called for the resignation of Johnson because “he is entirely a creature of the whim of the President, the vice president, and other White House officials.” Three weeks ago, Friends of the Earth followed suit.

Yesterday, Rep. Waxman sent a letter to Johnson about the UCS report, asking him to “be prepared to respond to its findings” in an Oversight Committee hearing in May.

UPDATE: Rep. Markey has replied to the EPA’s refusal to obey a Global Warming Committee subpoena. In his letter, Markey says the committee is willing to keep confidential any documents turned over until June 21. If the EPA does not agree to this accomodation by 6 PM tomorrow, the “Committee is prepared to proceed with all its legal rights,” including “a vote of contempt” for Johnson.

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