Mary Gade, the Region 5 Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, abruptly resigned yesterday in the midst of a battle with Dow Chemical over its refusal to clean up decades-old dioxin pollution from its headquarters in Michigan. As Michael Hawthorne reported in the Chicago Tribune:
Gade told the Tribune she resigned after two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson took away her powers as regional administrator and told her to quit or be fired by June 1.
He further reported that one of those officials had recently assessed her performance as “outstanding“:
Five months ago, a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official gave Mary Gade a performance rating of “outstanding.” On Thursday, the same official told her to quit or be fired as the agency’s top regulator in the Midwest.
As the EPA organizational chart indicates, the regional administrators report directly to the office of EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson:
So who can the “two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson” who “took away her powers” be? The following are the most likely suspects.
Marcus C. Peacock
The only person under Administrator Johnson with official authority over the regional administrators is Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock. As his EPA biography states, “From 2001 until August 2005, Mr. Peacock served as an Associate Director at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” There, he worked under OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) administrator John Graham, described by OMBWatch as “The man behind the curtain.” While at OMB, Peacock created the Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART), a complex assessment system by which the OMB exerts authority over every action of Executive Branch agencies, including the EPA.
EPA staff scientists in regional offices surveyed by the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed directly at the OMB and Marcus Peacock as responsible for political interference. Here are just a few of the comments:
And although the administration chose Steve Johnson (a career scientist) as EPA Administrator, they sent Graham henchman Marcus Peacock over to keep a close eye on EPA as Deputy Administrator.
Control the power of OMB to a reasonable level – OMB does more to waste time and taxpayer dollars than any other organization in the government.
Further, the influence of other agencies, particularly OMB significantly affects the actions of specific individual program offices, which amounts to direct oversight of almost everything EPA does.
The current Administrator is a puppet operated by CEQ and OMB.
Luis A. Luna
The official who called Gade’s performance “outstanding” and then gave her the ultimatum is most likely Assistant Administrator Luis Luna, who runs the Office of Administration and Resources Management, or his subordinate Kenneth Venuto, Director of the Office of Human Resources. When Luna was sworn into his post on May 2, 2005, Johnson said, “This office touches the work of every EPA employee.” Luna is responsible for outsourcing nearly five percent of the EPA workforce. A Cuban emigré, Luna has worked on the Hill and in various executive branch agencies for decades. Most notably he was a top aide and the campaign manager for Rep. Bob Bauman (R-MD), the chairman of the American Conservative Union who was voted out of office after a sex scandal involving an underage boy. Luna ran a failed campaign to take Bauman’s seat in the 1990 Republican primary. His wife, Bonnie Luna, was a delegate for George W. Bush at the 2000 Republican National Convention.
But official responsibility lies with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. EPA press secretary Jonathan Shradar — who won Fishbowl DC’s “hottest male in PR” vote with the aid of a Craigslist ad when a spokesman for the Department of Energy in 2007 — told Gristmill’s Kate Sheppard that Johnson “made the decision.” His statement:
This is a role that serves at pleasure of the administration, and [EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson] makes the decision of keeping people in place, and he made the decision. It’s a politically appointed position, just like mine. We have the expectation that we’re here to do a job, and we serve at the pleasure of the president, or in this case the pleasure of the administrator.
As Crooks and Liars noted during in 2007, the “pleasure of the president” was a Bush administration talking point during the U.S. Attorney scandal. Watch the Daily Show’s take: