After a month and a half of debate, the Senate has finally confirmed Stephen Johnson to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Johnson, an EPA lifer and the first scientist to be tapped to lead the agency in its three-decade history, must have breathed a sigh of relief after enduring criticism of agency policies from several Democratic Senators.
First off, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) grilled Johnson regarding a controversial study slated to document the impact on household pesticides on children in Duval County, Florida. As a result of the questioning, Johnson killed the $9 million study.
Then last week, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) blocked a vote on Johnson’s confirmation to protest the EPA’s unwillingness to analyze how White House proposals to reduce air pollution compared with competing approaches. Carper stated outright that he had no particular problem with Johnson, but that his action had “sent a clear message that the White House and federal agencies have a responsibility to provide Congress with information that will help us write good, balanced legislation.”
Johnson should have no trouble adjusting to his new job. He’s been doing it on an interim basis since February when his predecessor Mike Leavitt left the post to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. Environmentalists remain optimistic that Johnson’s scientific background will help restore some credibility to the agency moving forward.