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Amid Rebellion and Chaos, EPA Chief Must Resign

Six years after the head of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned because of political interference, almost every EPA employee is begging the current administrator to quit—as in, quit letting politics drive agency decisions.

The 10,000 employees publicly accused Administrator Stephen L. Johnson of ignoring their advice as well as scientific principles in his eagerness to appease political and private sector interests. What really galled them is his refusal to let California regulate global warming emissions from vehicles. But, they cited other examples of how Johnson has sullied the agency and its mission since he took over in 2005—including decisions on mercury from coal plants and on pesticide regulations that Earthjustice is litigating.

Those rank-and-file employees aren't alone in their dismay over Johnson's EPA:

  • A House committee is investigating conflicts of interest linked to eight EPA advisory panel members who were assessing health effects of toxic chemicals while getting research support from the chemical industry on those same chemicals.
  • Bi-partisan legislation has been launched in the House and Senate that would immediately allow California—and 12 other states—to set the stringent standards Johnson disallowed.
  • Congressman Henry Waxman is pressing Johnson over his reasons for not letting California set its own standards.
  • The Senate is demanding to know why Johnson hasn't yet obeyed a Supreme Court order directing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. "The only conclusion I can reach is you are under pressure not to do anything," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Johnson.

We support these congressional actions, but particularly applaud the brave employees at EPA who are anguished over the betrayal of their mission. They—like those Americans forced to breathe mercury-tainted air—are victims of a Bush administration policy to weaken environmental protections by weakening regulatory agencies. Our litigation has given us a front row seat to see the disgraceful spectacle that the EPA has become under President Bush. Fortunately, our cases have blocked the worst of the rollbacks.

Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA's first chief administrator under Bush, was also the first major victim of his betrayal of EPA's mission. Only a month after taking office  in February 2001, Whitman publicly declared that "the science is strong" about humankind's role in causing global warming. Giving voice to a Bush campaign commitment, she urged the adoption of laws capping greenhouse gas emissions. Under her direction, a year later, the EPA issued a report to the United Nations that recommended strong actions to combat global warming.

But Bush dismissed the EPA report as the work of misguided bureaucrats, and—in a course of action that continues to this day—refused to let the United States join with the rest of the world in fighting the causes of global warming. Whitman quit in disgust a year later, after the Vice President undermined her efforts to clean up existing coal burning power plants.

Johnson, who seems unperturbed that politics trumps science at the EPA, actually shares many of Whitman's strong views on global warming and greenhouse gases. But, while Whitman (a former New Jersey governor) took decisive action on her principles, Johnson relies on inaction—hence the frustration expressed by Senator Feinstein; weak action—as shown in the inadequate ozone standards he recently issued; obstructionist action—as with the California standards he rejected; and politicized action—as suggested by the tainted EPA health advisory panel.

As the New York Times editorialized: "It is past time for this administration to do what is required by law and the planet." With the EPA staff in rebellion and the agency's mission compromised, Johnson should resign and let the housecleaning begin.