<
>

EPA official disputes accusations agency rolled back environmental safeguards

2/8/2007

WASHINGTON — The head of the Environmental Protection
Agency faced down hostile critics Tuesday in his first committee
appearance before the Democratic-led Congress, denying accusations
that agency decisions last year rolled back environmental
safeguards.

``These decisions and actions all accelerate the pace of
environmental protection. They all deliver environmental results,''
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson told the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee.

``Nobody's fooled by this,'' responded the new committee chair,
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

``EPA has gone too long without meaningful oversight,'' she
said, contending the changes ``benefit polluters' bottom line and
they hurt our communities.''

At issue were a number of changes EPA made last year, including
a new policy that reduces the role of scientists in setting air
pollution standards; a move to raise the threshold for reporting
releases of toxic chemicals; and the shuttering of five agency
libraries where the public could look at scientific and health
documents.

A Government Accountability Office study released Tuesday said
that EPA did not adhere to its own rule-making in making the
changes to toxic chemicals reporting.

The Toxic Reporting Inventory
changes, said GAO, ``will likely have a significant impact on
information available to the public about dozens of toxic
chemicals'' at facilities nationwide.

Johnson said the new rule encourages businesses to adopt better
waste management practices by allowing them to reduce emissions
reporting if they do so.

``My interest is to do anything I can to
encourage businesses to reduce emissions,'' he said.

The EPA libraries were closed, Johnson said, because they got
barely any visitors and the information they housed was being put
on the Internet.

Boxer confronted him with internal agency e-mails and Web
postings indicating more libraries were closed than he seemed to be
aware of and suggesting EPA staff was ordered to throw away
scientific journals at one library.

Johnson said some journals were discarded after they were
contaminated by mold in a flood, and that in some cases documents
were destroyed if there was more than one copy of them.

``Mr. Johnson, you're reading those notes very well, but you're
unaware of what's happening in the agency,'' Boxer said.

Several Republicans on the panel defended Johnson, praising him
for streamlining agency regulations and ridiculing the idea that
poorly attended libraries were necessary.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., held up a series of books and videos
he said were at EPA libraries. One was ``The Lorax'' by Dr. Seuss.
Another was called ``Fat Chicks Rule! How to Survive in a
Thin-centric World.'' There was also a pilates exercise video and a
computer software guide from 1983.