The E.P.A.'s "human testing programs" and so on…


Senator Threatens to Block Vote on E.P.A. Nominee

April 14, 2005

Senator Threatens to Block Vote on E.P.A. Nominee
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

WASHINGTON, April 13 – Stephen L. Johnson, President Bush’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, won nearly unanimous approval from a Senate committee today, although one member said he might block confirmation by the full Senate.

The vote of the panel, the Environment and Public Works Committee, was 17 to 1. The lone dissenter was Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware, who complained that the agency had not responded to his requests for detailed analyses of antipollution proposals differing from the administration’s.

Each member of the Senate has the power to delay confirmation of a presidential nominee, and after the committee vote, Mr. Carper did not rule out doing so if he did not receive the information.

Suggesting that the blame lay with the White House, the senator said: “Steve Johnson needs to be unfettered by this administration to do the job as it needs to be done. We need legislation, but to get the right legislation, we need good, timely technical information.”

Last week two other Democrats, Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, also threatened to block confirmation. Their objections sprang from a program in Florida, co-sponsored by the E.P.A., in which low-income families would have been compensated to allow research about the effects of pesticides on their infants.

Mr. Johnson, the agency’s acting administrator, agreed on Friday to cancel that study. Yet Ms. Boxer said before voting on Wednesday that she still had “great reservations” about his stewardship. She mentioned concerns dealing with other human testing programs, decisions that the agency’s critics have said are made on the basis of politics rather than science, and financial support for the Superfund program.

“I am going to go with my hopes, not my fears,” Ms. Boxer said of her vote backing the nomination.

Mr. Johnson, who has a background in pesticides, would become the first career scientist to lead the agency. He has held several senior positions there and been acting administrator since Michael O. Leavitt left in January to become secretary of health and human services.

Mr. Carper’s concerns underscore a major division on the committee between Republicans who favor the Bush administration’s approach to reducing emissions from power plants and members who back alternatives that, unlike the administration’s initiative, would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions in addition to those of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. Mr. Carper and Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, have introduced one alternative; Senator James M. Jeffords, independent of Vermont, has offered another.

The administration plan failed to win committee approval last month for the second consecutive year, in part, Mr. Carper says, because the agency has refused to analyze the two alternatives to determine their costs and effectiveness, as it has the administration approach.

In attributing the agency’s reluctance to the White House, Mr. Carper suggested that Mr. Johnson would exercise only as much independence as officials there would allow.

He said he believed that Mr. Johnson “would serve the agency well if the White House would let him,” adding, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe the White House has let past administrators do their jobs effectively, and I don’t believe they’re ready to do that now.”

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, declined to respond to Mr. Carper’s comments directly, on the ground that confirmation was still pending. But “the president believes Mr. Johnson is the best-qualified individual to lead the E.P.A.,” Mr. Duffy said, “which is why we selected him.”

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.

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