Dark Days at the Environmental Protection Agency

The Bush administration seems to be all about losing professional agency staffs through politically motivated punishment firings, i.e. the U.S. Attorney’s Scandal and &feature=related" target="_blank">the firing of Fox News whistle blowers (and yes, Virginia, Fox News is part of the administration) and government employee resignations over matters of principal, i.e. Intelligence Agents, State Department employees and Health and Human Services professionals. Count among those numerous resignations at the EPA, including the very public resignation of Chris Schaeffer, the former Director of the Office of Regulatory Enforcement, over the attempt to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” in not punishing violators of the Clean Air Act.

And now, as reported by the Associated Press, EPA workers unions representing more than 10,000 EPA employees are withdrawing from a cooperation agreement with their supervisors, the Bush political appointees, over controversies including the agencies refusal to allow California a waiver to set greenhouse gas emission reduction levels beyond the federal standard. The cooperative agreement was put in place in the 1990’s as a way for political appointees and career EPA workers to have a forum to deal with workplace and other issues before final decisions are reached.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, nineteen union local presidents cited “abuses of our good nature and trust” and the promotion of political expediency and “private sector interests” over principles of scientific integrity as reasons for the withdrawal from the agreement. The letter was publicly released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility earlier this week.

Senator Barbara Boxer has made available some documentation demonstrating the many ways in which political appointees and the Administrator ignored the recommendations of senior staff on the California waiver decision. The Environment and Public Works Committee that she chairs is investigating the EPA’s denial of California’s waiver request. Boxer made a statement on the briefing documents received by her committee (the EPA continues to refuse to release the full documentation), stating:

These documents paint a picture of an Environmental Protection Agency in crisis. 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. -- U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Talking points prepared by the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality that the committee has made available demonstrate just how far apart the professional EPA staff was from the Administrator on the California waiver:
  • From what I have read and the people I have talked to, it is obvious to me that there is no legal or technical justification for denying this. The law is very specific about what you are allowed to consider, and even if you adopt the alternative interpretations that have been suggested by the automakers, you still wind up in the same place.
  • You have to find a way to get this done. 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.
Now that we are down to the tail end of the Bush administration and the many debacles associated with it, nobody may be paying much attention to one more demonstration of politics over public interest. But we should pay attention. We should show our outrage, if only as a warning to future administrations that we won’t ever again tolerate this kind of corporate collusion and disregard for the public good. One way to do so is to add your comments to EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock’s blog, Flow of the River. Concerned citizens have been helping the EPA by creating a healthy, open debate on the site, one that might shed some light on what we actually expect of an agency with the mission to protect the environment.

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  • Posted on March 10, 2008. Listed in:

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