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    Environmentalists Concerned about New EPA Appointments

Posted on Truthout

    Tuesday 09 August 2005

    Reshuffling and resignations at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have generated a flurry of nominees that for the most part have avoided media attention. The changes are causing concern among environmental and watchdog organizations.

    The second-in-command position at EPA was vacated when Stephen Johnson was promoted to EPA Administrator. Late last month the Senate confirmed Marcus Peacock as the new deputy administrator. Peacock will be moving over from the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he oversaw its environmental, energy, and science programs.

    Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, describes Peacock as a conservative ideologue "with a decidedly anti-environmental regulatory track record." In the first days of the Bush administration, the White House froze more than a dozen Clinton-era rules related to environment, health, and safety, including rules on arsenic in drinking water, snowmobiles in national parks, and protections for roadless areas of national forests. According to Bass, Peacock was instrumental in the decision to put a hold on rule-making in these areas, as well as a steady succession of budget cuts the White House requested for EPA.

    The Bush Administration also announced its choice for the top science position in the Office of Research and Development. George Gray, currently executive director of Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA), awaits Senate confirmation of his nomination. HRCA has garnered attention in the past over its conflict of interest policy and more recently over a review of scientific research concerning the endocrine disrupting chemical found in plastics, bisphenol-A.

    The Center's review, funded by the American Plastics Council, concluded that bisphenol-A does not cause harm at low doses. A 2005 study released in the science journal Environmental Health Perspectives also conducted a review of research concerning bisphenol-A and found that over 90 percent of independent studies report harmful effects of low dose exposure to bisphenol-A, while 100 percent of industry-funded studies report no significant adverse effects. [1]

    Another key vacancy was created with the resignation of Jeffrey Holmstead, assistant administrator in charge of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. In the interim that position will be filled by Bill Wehrum, a former lobbyist for Latham & Watkins - a law firm that represents major business interests.

    Wehrum was a lead author of the ill-fated "Clear Skies" legislation, and played a key role in weakening air pollution controls for coal-fired power plants. He also assisted in shaping the Administration's market-based trading program for mercury emissions, which are now being challenged in federal court.

    EPA's enforcement division has a new nominee to fill the vacancy created by Thomas Skinner, who was acting enforcement chief. Late last month, the Senate confirmed Granta Nakayama to head the enforcement office at EPA.

    Heading the enforcement office has become unusually difficult at the EPA. Predecessors, Sylvia Lowrance and J.P. Suarez, both spoke candidly to the press after leaving the post about the enormous difficulties of working in the EPA enforcement program under President Bush. The exodus at the EPA enforcement office began when Eric Schaeffer, then director of EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, stepped down in 2002 protesting failures to enforce the Clean Air Act.

    In an interview with Grist Magazine, Schaeffer commented on current working conditions in the enforcement office, "It's a crap job right now." Schaeffer added, "You have the White House boxing you in all the time, you have program officers trying to block your cases. Basically, if you do your job right in this climate, you'll anger a lot of your superiors. Enforcement is not the place to be right now if you are going to advance your political career."

    Nakayama, similar to other Bush Administration nominees, also has a history of lobbying for industry interests, including the snowmobiling industry, during his time as an attorney for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.


    [1] Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2005.

    This story was jointly produced by BushGreenwatch and Grist Magazine. For more on this story, visit Grist Magazine.