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[SANET-MG] proposed EPA head on use of children as white mice
April 7, 2005 ny times
Nominee Is Grilled Over Program on Pesticides
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
WASHINGTON, April 6 - Stephen L. Johnson, President Bush's nominee to
lead the Environmental Protection Agency, encountered unexpected
turbulence at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday as Senator
Barbara Boxer of California threatened to hold up his nomination over a
small but controversial pesticide program in Florida.
Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr.
Johnson, a 24-year veteran of the agency who has been acting
administrator since his predecessor, Michael O. Leavitt, became
secretary of health and human services, was greeted warmly by
Republicans and faced predictably pointed questions from Democrats over
recent agency initiatives, including emission control rules put into
place last month.
Ms. Boxer's objections were based on a little-known research program
near Jacksonville, Fla., sponsored by the agency and the American
Chemistry Council, that offered money to low-income families willing to
allow the agency to measure the effects of pesticides on their children
under one year of age. The project, called Children's Environmental
Exposure Research Study, or Cheers, was suspended last year after
negative public reaction that prompted the agency to call in outside
experts to assess its feasibility.
The program was limited to families in Duval County that routinely used
pesticides inside their homes. It offered parents $970 over two years if
they made sure their young children went about their usual activities as
the use of pesticides continued. Researchers would then visit the home
every three to six months to collect data.
In a letter that reached Ms. Boxer several hours after she raised her
concerns, Mr. Johnson said, "No additional work will be conducted on
this study subject to the outcome of external scientific and ethical
But that was well short of her demands. Calling the program "appalling,
unethical and immoral," Ms. Boxer implored Mr. Johnson "to pull the plug
on this program tomorrow." In an interview later, she said she would do
whatever she could to hold up Mr. Johnson's confirmation so long as the
program had any chance of being revived.
"Until it's canceled, I will do anything I can to stop this nomination,"
she said. "This program is the worst kind of thing; it's environmental
injustice where children are the victims."
Mr. Johnson, 54, is the first career employee at the agency with a
formal scientific background to be nominated to lead it. Trained as a
biologist and pathologist, he led the agency's pesticide and toxic
substances office before rising to several senior positions under Mr.
Leavitt and his predecessor, Christie Whitman.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Johnson assured committee members that under
his leadership, decisions would be made on "the best available
scientific information" and that they would be made through a process
"as open and transparent" as possible.
But fielding questions from other Democrats and Senator James M.
Jeffords, Independent of Vermont, who warned Mr. Johnson against
becoming "a rubber stamp for White House policies," Mr. Johnson made it
clear that he would strongly support preferences of the administration.
That became especially evident in an exchange with Senator Thomas R.
Carper, Democrat of Delaware, who pressed Mr. Johnson to explain why the
agency provided the committee with detailed analyses of the
administration's pollution-reduction bill, known as Clear Skies, but not
two competing bills. The measure has stalled in the last two sessions of
Mr. Johnson said the agency had more pressing matters to address, but he
vowed to do whatever he could to help the committee pass effective
antipollution legislation so long as it was built on Clear Skies.
"I appreciate the work the committee has already done on this issue," he
said, "and I look forward to working with you to advance this important
Responding to friendly questions from Senator George V. Voinovich,
Republican of Ohio, Mr. Johnson returned to the theme of sound science
as the overarching imperative for all agency decisions. But Mr. Jeffords
threw the concept back to him, asking Mr. Johnson why the agency chose a
cap-and-trade program for its recently announced mercury rules for power
plant emissions, rather than a program that demanded the use of best
Mr. Johnson's answer reflected his willingness to balance economic
considerations with new environmental regulations. He said that new
guidelines for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions were also
helping to reduce mercury emissions and that forcing plant operators to
do more would prove too expensive.
"It's a much more cost-effective approach," he said of the cap-and-trade
As he left the hearing room, Mr. Johnson smiled when asked about Ms.
Boxer's concerns and said, "Today was a pleasure being before the
senators, and I'm looking forward to swift confirmation so I can run the
E.P.A. on a full-time basis."
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