andrew schneider investigates

March 3, 2008

EPA scientists disavow their boss

It was an exciting time for EPA scientists in May 2005 when Stephen Johnson was sworn in as the 11th administrator of the beleaguered agency. He was the first scientist to hold the top position and it was hoped by many that his 27 years of working the trenches would be a signal to the Bush administration that the agency would no longer be hampered by political kowtowing to industry and politicians who put favors before public health and the environment.

The agency has had the best and the worst of leaders. William Ruckelshaus was the EPA’s first boss and set a tone for integrity, influence and protecting the environment rarely matched by his successors. There was Anne Gorsuch, who resigned under fire in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of programs to clean toxic dumps. She also gutted clean water rules. Christine Todd Whitman had many believing early on that she would support the scientists and investigators against political pressure. But in the end, she blindly followed White House orders after 9/11 to get Wall Street opened as quickly as possible. She told New Yorkers that the dust they were breathing from the attacks was harmless, which it obviously wasn’t.

It didn’t take long to see signs that Johnson forgot those scientists he left behind. The administrator stood silent when agency scientists and ethicists from coast-to-coast denounced the sometimes inhuman testing of pesticides on children.

In a stinging rebuke, unions representing the vast majority of EPA scientists, lawyers and other specialists Monday vowed to cut off future discussions with Johnson.

According to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Johnson, already in the hot seat for overruling staff advice that he was legally required to grant California’s requested waiver to regulate greenhouse gases, faces a litany of charges that he has also been duplicitous on an array of other scientific integrity, information suppression and workplace relations issues, said PEER.


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