EPA’s Johnson ‘Completely Rejects’ The Claim He ‘Doesn’t Listen’ To His Staff

Today, the National Journal published a March 28 interview with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson in which he defended his most controversial decisions. These include issuing a tepid smog standard, denying California a waiver to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, and the EPA’s continued silence on greenhouse gas regulations, in defiance of the Supreme Court.

Most laughably, Johnson rejected the claim that he has a history of “ignoring EPA experts and caving in to White House orders on environmental issues”:

That is the furthest thing from the truth. Each of these decisions is my decision, my decision alone. One of the things that I’ve learned in my 27 years at EPA and being in a variety of decision-making capacities is that it’s not a popularity contest. … I completely reject the fact that I don’t listen to my staff.

The truth is that Johnson has a well-documented past of “ignoring EPA experts and caving in to White House orders”…

…on the California waiver:

LA Times: “The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored his staff’s written findings in denying California’s request for a waiver…sources inside and outside the agency told The Times on Thursday.”

EPA staffer: “California met every criteria . . . on the merits. … We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts.”

EPA staff memo to Johnson: “If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA): “A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. … Mr. Johnson goes into the White House with a briefing that tells him to fight for the waiver. And then, the waiver’s not granted.”

…on the smog standards:

NY Times: “The Environmental Protection Agency announced a modest tightening of the smog standard on Wednesday evening, overruling the unanimous advice of its scientific advisory council for a more protective standard.”

LA Times: “President Bush intervened at the 11th hour and turned down a second proposal by the EPA staff that would have established tougher seasonal limits on ozone based on its harm to forests, crops and other plants.”

AP: “In a letter sent to Johnson earlier this week, the [Clean Air Scientific Advisory] committee said it remained convinced that the EPA’s concentration level ‘fails to … ensure an adequate margin of safety’ for the elderly, children and people with respiratory illnesses.”

In fact, EPA members are so fed up with Johnson’s leadership that 19 unions affiliated with the agency wrote to Johnson last month to announce their departure, complaining “that he and other top managers have ignored the advice of unionized workers and the agency’s own principles of scientific integrity.”