Environmentalists are optimistic that President Bush’s appointment of career scientist Steve Johnson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signals a renewed scientific focus for an agency bogged down in political skirmishes for the last five years.
Johnson brings an expertise in pesticides and experience designing food safety regulations to his new post. He has said he looks forward to leading federal efforts to ensure the security of U.S. drinking water supplies. Meanwhile, the White House says it is looking to Johnson to shepherd its contentious “Clear Skies Initiative” through Congress (although the legislation appears stalled out in the Senate currently).
Critical of the agency during Bush’s first term for making policy decisions benefiting the energy industry, environmentalists are expecting public benefits to come first under Johnson. “Steve Johnson was not plucked from the Republican farm team,” says Angela Ledford of the nonprofit advocacy group Clear the Air. “We hope this choice means policies will be based on science and public health, not politics.”
Meanwhile, industry lobbyists have also praised the choice of Johnson. Scott Segal of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a power industry trade group, calls Johnson a “respected, seasoned professional.” Nevertheless, Segal warns that Johnson should develop rules with balance so as not to “undermine energy security, safety, consumer protection, and, in the end, emissions control.”
Despite the political wrangling surrounding the appointment, however, analysts point out that no matter what, Johnson is likely to toe the White House line on policy matters. For instance, when asked by a Japanese newspaper last year whether the United States might join the Kyoto Protocol, he answered: “That question is easy, and it’s no.”
And in accepting the appointment last week, Johnson told reporters he would carry out an environmental agenda “while maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness.” While industry representatives and environmentalists vie for the loudest sound bites in order to spin the appointment in their favor, though, only time will tell how Johnson leads during his tenure at the EPA.