Shades Of U.S. Attorney Scandal: Top EPA Official Forced Out By Political Appointees

Mary GadeThe Wonk Room has previously described Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson as “the environment’s Alberto Gonzales.” After years of scandal as White House Counsel and Attorney General, Gonzales finally resigned after it was revealed that numerous U.S. attorneys were fired without cause under his watch.

Now it seems the EPA is following the Department of Justice’s efforts to rid itself of staffers who are not “loyal Bushies.”

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The Bush administration forced its top environmental regulator in the Midwest to quit Thursday after months of internal bickering about dioxin contamination downstream from Dow Chemical’s world headquarters in Michigan.

In an interview with the Tribune, Mary Gade said two top political appointees at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington stripped her of her powers as regional administrator and told her to quit or be fired by June 1.

As a congressional investigation revealed this week, the EPA’s regulation of toxic chemicals like dioxin has been corrupted by interference by the White House. But this case is even more egregious:

For the past year, Gade has been locked in a heated dispute with Dow about long-delayed plans to clean up dioxin-saturated soil and sediment that extends 50 miles beyond its Midland, Mich., plant into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. [. . .]

Though regional EPA administrators typically have wide latitude to enforce environmental laws, Gade drew fire from officials in Washington last month after she sent contractors to test soil in a Saginaw neighborhood where Dow had found high dioxin levels.

She said top lieutenants to Stephen Johnson, the national EPA administrator, repeatedly questioned her aggressive action against Dow, which long ago acknowledged it is responsible for the dioxin contamination but has resisted federal and state involvement in cleanup plans.

Gade told the Chicago Tribune, “There’s no question this is about Dow.” When Johnson appointed Gade to her position in 2006, he praised “her impressive environmental career,” saying, “Mary is well-prepared to lead the Agency’s largest regional office.”

UPDATE: In 2000, Mary Gade wrote optimistically about environmental policy in a Bush administration:

To the question of politics — or, I hope, the lack thereof. A successful twenty-first-century environmental policy will require a leader who can reach across partisan lines and bridge political differences on what should be the ultimate nonpartisan issue. It also will require a President who recognizes that environmental issues don’t respect national borders and who can credibly address these complex issues on the international stage. I confess, I’m a Republican and a supporter of Texas Governor George W. Bush. I believe Governor Bush in two terms has put together a stronger bipartisan record on conservation and the environment than Al Gore has in twenty-plus years in Washington, D.C., precisely because Bush puts action and results above talk and posture.

UPDATE II: Via Daily Kos user LakeSuperior, Michigan Environmental Council President Lana Pollack calls Mary Gade “woman of unquestioned credentials and integrity who was doing her job enforcing our environmental laws”:

If Mary Gade were indeed forced out because she was willing to enforce environmental laws against Dow Chemical, then it is a travesty.

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