Bush Picks Scientist to Head EPA

President Bush nominated Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Steve Johnson Friday to be the first career EPA employee to head the agency.

WASHINGTON — President Bush nominated Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Steve Johnson Friday to be the first career EPA employee to head the agency.

Johnson, who has worked at the EPA for 24 years, would be the first professional scientist to lead the agency.

Bush said in an announcement at the White House that Johnson was "a talented scientist and skilled manager with a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship."

He said one of Johnson's responsibilities would be to push Congress to pass the administration's "Clear Skies" plan that is designed to reduce power plant pollution by 70 percent.

That plan is currently stalled in a Senate committee because of a deadlock on the issue.


Democrats and green groups have criticized the plan, saying its targeted cuts are too weak and give utilities too much time to install pollution-reduction equipment.

Bush also said Johnson was an expert on pesticides and helped design new regulations to improve food safety, and that Johnson will lead federal efforts to ensure the security of U.S. drinking water supplies.

Johnson, who turns 54 this month, said he would carry out an environmental agenda "while maintaining our nation's economic competitiveness."

Some environmental groups hope that because Johnson comes from within the EPA, the agency will make policy decisions that benefit the public more than the energy industry that is closely linked to the Bush administration.

"Steve Johnson was not plucked from the Republican farm team," said Angela Ledford of Clear the Air. "We hope this choice means policies will be based on science and public health, not politics."

Nonetheless, Johnson is expected to follow, more than establish, the administration's positions on environmental issues.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an utility industry lobbying group, said Johnson was a "respected, seasoned professional."

He also said Johnson should remember "environmental rules developed without balance can undermine energy security, safety, consumer protection, and, in the end, (polluting) emissions control."

The Bush administration has taken a hit from its European allies for not allowing the United States to be a part of the international Kyoto treaty that seeks to reduce global warming emissions spewed by industrialized countries.

When Johnson was asked by a Japanese newspaper last year whether the United States might rejoin the Kyoto agreement, he responded: "That question is easy, and it's no."

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Johnson would follow Mike Leavitt, who now serves as Bush's health and human services secretary.

Before becoming EPA acting administrator, Johnson served as the deputy administrator of the agency and held several other EPA jobs.

Johnson previously served as director of operations at Hazelton Laboratories Corp. and Litton Bionetics Inc.

The EPA was created in 1970 and enforces U.S. environmental laws and regulations. The agency has over 18,000 employees and an annual budget of $8.6 billion.

Source: Reuters