New York Times
April 7, 2005
Nominee Is Grilled Over Program on Pesticides
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
ASHINGTON, 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
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
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
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 review."
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
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
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"
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 Congress.
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 legislative initiative."
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 available technologies.
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 program.
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."