Senate Democrats Call for EPA Chief to Step Down

In the wake of allegations that he lied in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, EPA chief Stephen L. Johnson has been asked to resign by four Senate democrats. Johnson took over as Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2005, and has been under fire from environmental advocates since his decision to block the efforts of 17 states to adopt stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards than those mandated by the federal government. In January, California sued the EPA over its denial of a waiver that would have allowed the state to enforce a 30 percent increase in fuel economy from any cars sold statewide by 2016—effectively a jump to a 43 mpg standard.

After Johnson blocked the request, he testified to the committee that the decision was his alone, and that Bush administration had not provided him with any direction in the matter. That claim was directly contradicted earlier this month by the testimony of a top official at the EPA, who said that Johnson had originally decided to grant California a partial waiver, but changed his mind after interference from the Bush administration.

Past administrators—particularly Bush’s first EPA head, Christine Todd Whitman—have complained about receiving pressure from the White House on matters that fall directly under the scope of the agency’s independent regulatory powers. Such complaints are consistent with allegations that the automobile industry used its influence within the Bush administration in an effort to block California and the 16 other states from adopting their own greenhouse gas emission standards. The fact that the industry upped its combined political spending to $70.3 million in 2007—a 20 percent increase—also serves to support such claims.