The Creationist Running the EPA?

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiles EPA head Stephen Johnson:

Johnson majored in biology. At Taylor [University, one of the oldest evangelical universities in the country], that includes discussion of creationism.

Taylor biology professor Timothy Burkholder, who was Johnson's adviser, said, "We would adhere to the view that God is the creator of all things and in charge of our lives, and I think Steve recognizes that and did from the beginning."

Asked about this, Johnson declined to express his views on the evolution-creation question.

"It's not a clean-cut division," the career EPA scientist said. "If you have studied at all creationism vs. evolution, there's theistic or God-controlled evolution and there's variations on all those themes."

Johnson declined to elaborate - "perhaps after Jan. 20, I'll be happy to discuss it" - except to say that it "as a practical matter has not been an issue" at the EPA.

I dare say it has, though. Johnson's administration of the EPA has been marked by a willingness to set aside scientific evidence in favor of the received word of his superiors.

Johnson worked his way up through the EPA ranks. His background in the sciences got him a gig in a lab at a chemical and biological warfare company (a company alleged by conspiracy theorists to have helped create AIDS), where his boss suggested he should go to work for the EPA to get insights into the regulatory process. Johnson explains: "Regulations were really frustrating. … I wondered if they [the EPA] really understood what it was like to work in a laboratory." So, at his boss's urging, off he went.

At the EPA he worked his way up the ranks, opening the door to atrazine (an herbicide associated with sex changes in frogs), and pesticide testing on children. As administrator, he was in charge of some of the most contentious decisions of the post-invasion Bush Presidency.

"There were no surprises with Steve," said a former EPA political appointee. "He cuts an impressive figure and knows how to impress superiors. Steve has that down cold."

The most prominent incident came a year ago last week. After careful consultation with EPA scientists, he sent an email to the White House declaring that climate change put public safety at risk, and therefore carbon dioxide emissions should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Knowing that this was likely to be his decision, White House aides simply refused to open the email. That prevented it from becoming an official record that they'd have to deal with politically and administratively. Instead of opening his email, they called Johnson and instructed him to water the document down.

The law clearly stated that the final decision was the EPA administrator's, not Bush's. Johnson initially resisted - something [Associate Deputy Administrator Jason] Burnett admired - but ultimately did as he was told.

Outraged, Burnett resigned.

In July, Johnson issued a new, censored version, a pale imitation of the original climate-change document.

Johnson buckled to administration pressure again two weeks later. California had applied for permission to issue its own greenhouse gas limits, as permitted under the Clean Air Act. The EPA had never denied such a request. Industry objected, noting that a bill moving through Congress imposed much looser standards, and that it would be better to have a single regulatory environment.

The EPA career scientists countered that California, given its pollution problems, both natural and man-made, was legally qualified to receive the waiver. In a series of PowerPoint presentations, staff scientists, economists, engineers and lawyers warned Johnson that if the waiver was denied, California was "almost certain" to sue and EPA was "likely to lose."

Senior EPA scientists appealed to [William K.] Reilly, the former administrator [under the first Bush], to lobby Johnson and prepared talking points for him: "You have to find a way to get this done," the talking points read. "If you cannot, you will face a pretty big personal decision about whether you are able to stay in the job. . . ."

Reilly didn't use the talking points, but he did try to persuade Johnson that it was a states-rights issue, and also one of oil independence. …

As is his style, Johnson listened to staff presentations and repeatedly asked everyone in the room for an opinion. According to sworn statements to Congress by seven EPA officials, no one at EPA advised Johnson to deny California's request. Handwritten notes by meeting attendees supported this view, congressional investigators said.

"All agreed on granting waiver," scribbled one EPA official.

When Johnson traveled to the White House in early December, aides said, they assumed it was to explain EPA's rationale.

"He went over there with our talking points about granting the waiver," said Burnett, the former deputy associate administrator. Burnett … added, "When he came back from the meeting, he said he had been reminded of the president's policy preferences."

Johnson rejected California's request, he said, because greenhouse gases contribute to a global and national problem, not one limited to individual states.

So, on evolution, he rejects scientific evidence in favor of the opinion of his authority figures. On climate change, he again rejects the scientific evidence in favor of the opinion of his authority figure. On the ethics of human testing of pesticides, on the appropriateness of using atrazine, on the environmental risks of mega-farms, and on value of a human life in cost-benefit analyses, Johnson has consistently ignored his scientific advisors, going along with the opinions of his political superiors.

In other news, George W. Bush gave a fuzzy answer about his own views on evolution, in this discussion of the Bible with ABC News:

MCFADDEN: Is it literally true, the Bible?

BUSH: You know. Probably not ... No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is "God sent a son."

MCFADDEN: So you can read the Bible...

BUSH: That God in the flesh, that mankind can understand there is a God who is full of grace and that nothing you can do to earn his love. His love is a gift and that in order to draw closer to God and in order to express your appreciation for that love is why you change your behavior.

MCFADDEN: So you can read the Bible and not take it literally. I mean you can -- it's not inconsistent to love the Bible and believe in evolution, say.

BUSH: Yeah, I mean, I do. I mean, evolution is an interesting subject. I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life and ...

MCFADDEN: But do you believe in it?

BUSH: That God created the world, I do, yeah.

MCFADDEN: But what about ...

BUSH: Well, I think you can have both. I think evolution can -- you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But it's, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.

This could be theistic evolutionism, or it could be a YECish rejection of "macroevolution" while accepting "microevolution." I wouldn't care, except that he's still burrowing hacks like Johnson into scientific agencies. The next President, who has demonstrated his interest in science and open discussion, and who has also made it clear that he understands:

When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.

and that:

I'm a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state. But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there's a difference between science and faith. That doesn't make faith any less important than science. It just means they're two different things. And I think it's a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don't hold up to scientific inquiry.

Only 42 days until we get a new President.


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By curlyfries (not verified) on 09 Dec 2008 #permalink