Our guest blogger is Robert M. Sussman, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and former Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a highly unusual move, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson reportedly stripped the Administrator of EPA Region 5, Mary Gade, of her powers and told her to quit or be fired by June 1. Mary is a loyal Republican and one of the most seasoned and experienced environmental policy-makers in the country.
In addition to many years as a career employee in Region 5, Mary was appointed by Republican Governor Jim Edgar to head the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. She served in that position with distinction, chairing the multi-state Ozone Transport Assessment Group which recommended groundbreaking controls of NOx emissions throughout the Eastern US. Mary was also the head and co-founder of the Environmental Council of the States, an influential and respected group of top environmental officials from state agencies.
While the facts are still coming to light, Mary has said that EPA political leaders wanted to block the Region from taking aggressive action to clean up dioxin contamination near the Dow Chemical facility in Midland, Michigan and removed her from her position because she would not go along. This would be an unprecedented and highly irregular action by EPA political management. The regions traditionally have broad discretion in handling cleanups.
To remove a Regional Administrator because of a disagreement over policy at an individual site is unheard of.
If Mary stood up for her career staff and pushed for strong action to abate contamination, she was only performing her job under the environmental laws as she saw it. It is hard to believe that Mary, an astute and successful lawyer in private practice with a long track record of implementing the federal contamination laws, would overstep legal boundaries. If her only sin was zeal in protecting the public, firing her was wrong and will send a troubling message to EPA employees all across the country who are trying to do their jobs. Clearly, it’s up to Steve Johnson to explain why he fired Mary and up to Congress to investigate the circumstances.
A staunch Bush supporter, Mary said in 2000 that “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.” Mary’s firing sadly demonstrates that “action and results” are not encouraged or rewarded at Mr. Bush’s EPA.