Daily News Archives
From March 8, 2005

Bush Nominates Stephen Johnson To Head EPA, Industry Hails Appointment as a "Sympathetic Ear"
(Beyond Pesticides, March 8, 2005)
On March 4, 2005, President Bush nominated Stephen Johnson to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Johnson has been with EPA for 24 years and has been acting administrator since January 2005, when then-EPA administrator Michael Leavitt left to take over as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. According to advocates for pesticide reform, Mr. Johnson, an affable chap who has spent the vast majority of his EPA career in the pesticides program, has been in leadership positions while pesticides escaped comprehensive restrictions, and agency inaction was roundly criticized by independent groups, including the (GAO) Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office). Meanwhile, the pro-pesticide pest management industry trade group hailed the appointmenht and called Mr. Johnson a "sympathetic ear."

Mr. Johnson has served in top positions in the EPA over the past ten years. Most notable is his work in the Office of Pesticide Programs. He has served as deputy director of the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), director of the Registration Division of the OPP, director of OPP’s Field Operations Division, deputy director of OPP’s Hazard Evaluation Division and executive secretary of the Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), created under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

Activists hope that Mr. Johnson’s scientific background --he holds a B.A. in biology from Taylor University, Indiana and an M.S. in pathology from George Washington University, Washington, DC-- will hold him to the integrity of thorough investigation and accuracy in his work. The industry said that Mr. Johnson "should know the difference between real science and junk science."

For the most part, activists are luke warm in their feelings towards Mr. Johnson’s nomination.

"Steve Johnson has had a long career with EPA and is the best we could expect as a nominee from the Bush administration.” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. He continued, “This is deja vu all over again. Former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman came to her position with good environmental credentials and a strong reputation, but the White House clearly called all the shots on environmental and public health protections during her tenure. When she left, we suspect out of frustration, the White House appointed Mike Leavitt as its frontman. We hope that Mr. Johnson can rise above the White House's expectations that he will be a figurehead.”

Pesticide reform advocates have their own concerns regarding President Bush's latest appointment. Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides' executive director, said, "There are two possible characterizations of this friendly guy's career in EPA's pesticide program: he listened but couldn't hear, or he heard but couldn't deliver. The question now is whether Steve can listen, hear and deliver. We look forward to working with him." During Mr. Johnson’s tenure as deputy director of OPP, acting administrator of EPA, and head of OPP's pesticide registration division, the agency (among other things):

  • Allowed the continued use of the three heavy duty wood preservatives, pentachlorophenol (PCP), creosote and chromated copper arsenate (CCA), despite an overwhelming body of evidence showing harm to human health and the environment. Most recently, EPA released the highly criticized preliminary risk assessment for PCP, which ignores years of science in favor of new industry sponsored data.
  • Negotiated a long chlorpyrifos phase-out agreement with Dow AgroSciences of most residential uses of the neurotoxic pesticide, while leaving agricultural, golf course and public health mosquito uses intact. This past December, the agency had reached an agreement with Dow Chemical to give the green light to pre-construction termite applications which were set for an end-of-year production ban. After press coverage of the agency reversal, EPA backed off, but left the door open for future consideration.
  • Reversed its long-standing position that human testing is unethical and should not be considered for registering pesticides. Last year the agency asked the National Academy of Sciences for its guidance.
  • Adopted the position that pesticides applied to bodies of water for mosquito control are exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

Pest Contol's Buzz Online, a publication of the pro-pesticide National Pest Management Association (the trade association for exterminators, pest control operators, and pest management professionals) says of the apointment, "Bush's appointment of Johnson should provide the industry with a sympathetic ear, , ,at just the right time." Speaking to those in the pest control industry, the Buzz continues, "Combined with the industry's lobbying efforts, the timing couldn't be better for you and your colleagues to establish better working relationships with this important government agency."