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EPA Chief Under Fire for Ignoring Scientists

Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO - The vast majority of scientists and other specialists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have withdrawn from a key labor-management partnership, citing rising distrust of the agency's chief Stephen Johnson.0305 07

In a letter to Administrator Johnson, trade unions representing the workers complain that Johnson retaliates against whistle-blowers and union officers, "abuses our good nature and trust," and ignores the agency's Principles of Scientific Integrity.

Johnson has faced mounting criticism from within his own agency and a Congressional investigatory panel for allegedly ignoring scientific findings when they have contradicted the Bush administration's political aims.

The letter, which is signed by 19 union presidents representing 10,000 EPA employees across the country, is the latest fallout from Johnson's December decision to block California and at least 16 other states from implementing tough new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions on cars and trucks.

"Whatever reservoir of good will and credibility that Stephen Johnson had as a career employee is fast evaporating," said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Executive Director Jeff Ruch in a statement. "On a host of critical issues, the nation is looking for EPA to lead, but Johnson cannot be an effective leader from inside a bunker."

In an interview with OneWorld, EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Johnson has no regrets about preventing California's greenhouse gas regulations and has great respect for the agency's workers.

"Certainly he's recognized that climate change is a serious global problem and needs a national solution," Shradar said, arguing California and 16 other states cannot impose pollution controls different from federal law because those states are not suffering uniquely from global warming. "It's a national and global problem that needs to be addressed at the federal level."

The California law would have imposed stronger greenhouse gas restrictions than the federal government has so far imposed. The 16 other states were considering similarly stringent measures, which environmental campaigners welcome and automakers largely oppose.


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Responding to the unions' complaint directly, Shradar said: "As a 27-year career EPA scientist, the administrator values the expertise and advice of his staff and will do so through his time in leadership."

But internal agency documents obtained and released last week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) showed Johnson overrode California's regulations despite the objections of his own scientists.

"It is obvious to me that there is no legal or technical justification for denying this," reads an email memo released by Boxer's office, which was prepared by EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality and appeared to address Johnson directly in its analysis.

"I think there must be a win-win here, and you should find it and seize it...for the sake of the environment and the integrity of the agency," adds the email's sender, whose name has been redacted.

"You have to find a way to get this done," the document concludes. "If you cannot, you will face a pretty big personal decision about whether you are able to stay in the job under those circumstances. This is a choice only you can make, but I ask you to think about the history and the future of the agency in making it. If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged."

Other documents show EPA staffers made the case that California's global warming problems are "compelling and extraordinary," and include the loss of coastline due to rising sea levels, diminishing water supplies through reduced snowpacks, wildfires, air pollution, insect infestations, and ozone problems.

"These documents paint a picture of an Environmental Protection Agency in crisis," Boxer told reporters when she released the documents. "They show the dedicated professional staff of the EPA working hard to do what they are paid to do by the American people -- protect our health and our environment. At the same time, we see more and more evidence of Administrator Johnson ignoring the science and the facts, and discarding the advice of his professional staff."

The three major presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have all said they would let California's greenhouse gas restrictions go into effect if elected, meaning Johnson's decision to block the states' regulations will likely expire at the end of the Bush administration in January 2009.

© 2008 One World

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