Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson willingly endorsed the Bush administration’s push to put business interests ahead of his agency’s mission to “to protect human health and the environment.” An extended profile of Johnson published Sunday by the Philadelphia Inquirer reveals that the evangelical Johnson is unwilling — or unable — to separate religion from science.
Johnson — not a Ph.D. scientist — received his bachelor of arts degree in biology from Taylor University, “an evangelical, interdenominational covenant community committed to advancing life-long learning and ministering the redemptive love of Jesus Christ to a world in need.” His Taylor adviser, biology professor Timothy Burkholder told the Inquirer that the school teaches a religion-inflected view of evolution:
We would adhere to the view that God is the creator of all things and in charge of our lives, and I think Steve recognizes that and did from the beginning.
When questioned by reporters, Johnson admitted he does not distinguish a “clean-cut division” between religion and science:
It’s not a clean-cut division. If you have studied at all creationism vs. evolution, there’s theistic or God-controlled evolution and there’s variations on all those themes.
Johnson “declined to express his views” further, claiming his understanding of religion’s relationship to science “as a practical matter has not been an issue” at the agency. However, his inerrant faith that he and Bush are God’s servants guided his decisions. Criticism of his corrupt tenure that grew to a maelstrom this spring left him feeling like he’s “in the fiery furnace” and “Daniel in the lion’s den,” but he decided not to resign after a “providential reading” of an inspirational quotation by Abraham Lincoln about God’s will.
The piece also reveals that Johnson’s rise was due to corporate lobbyist, Republican activist, and Bush fundraiser Charles Grizzle, a long-time friend of Karl Rove. An EPA assistant administrator under the first President Bush, Grizzle took note of Johnson, then a staff scientist, and brought him to Rove’s attention when George W. Bush became president.
Johnson will leave office having tarnished the reputation of the agency, decimated staff morale, and degraded the health and safety of the American public. Condemnation of his tenure is near-universal. Four former Republican administrators — Russell Train (Nixon and Ford), William K. Reilly (George H.W. Bush), Christine Todd Whitman (George W. Bush), and William Ruckelshaus (Nixon and Reagan) all criticized Johnson to the Inquirer for deferring to the president and polluters instead of obeying his sworn oath to enforce the law.
But the Inquirer did find one prominent defender of Johnson — James L. Connaughton, the senior environmental adviser to Bush and lobbyist for corporate polluters. “He was a shining star from the outset,” said Connaughton. “He has done as we would have expected and hoped.”