President George W. Bush has turned to a career official at the Environmental Protection Agency to be the agency’s next administrator. If confirmed by the Senate, Stephen L. Johnson will be the first EPA chief who has risen through the ranks to the top job.

President Bush nominates Stephen Johnson to head EPA. (Photo courtesy of Courtesy of the White House)

In announcing his choice March 4, President Bush noted that Johnson “knows the EPA from the ground up.” In his 24 years at the agency, Johnson has served as deputy director of the Office of Pesticide Programs and later as assistant administrator of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. He served as a deputy administrator during the tenure of two former EPA administrators, Christine Todd Whitman and Mike Leavitt, both former governors. Johnson has been acting administrator since Jan. 26, 2005, following Leavitt’s nomination to head the Health and Human Services Dept. Earlier in his career he worked at Hazelton Laboratories, and Litton Bionetics, Inc.

“Steve will also become the first professional scientist to lead the EPA,” Bush said. “I’ve come to know Steve as an innovative problem-solver with good judgment and complete integrity,” Bush added.

Johnson will have many challenges in his new job, including improving impressions of the Bush administration's environmental record. On Capitol Hill he will be the lead White House force to move the Clear Skies legislation that aims to cut powerplant pollution by 70% by 2018. Senate members of the Environmental and Public Works Committee continue to be stymied in their efforts to push the bill through the committee. Another effort to draft a final bill is now scheduled for March 9. On the regulatory side, EPA is close to finalizing important new rules on mercury regulation and the Clean Air Interstate Rule. He is also expected to focus on homeland security issues, including new efforts to safeguard the drinking water supply.

Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the committee, applauded Johnson’s nomination. “His experience and temperament make him a solid choice to lead the agency at this time. The Bush administration has the worst environmental record in history, and I am hopeful that given Steve’s background and experience, he can bring a fresh and new approach to the Administration.” Jeffords, who has been an outspoken critic of the Bush White House, added: “I can only hope that this appointment will help repair and restore the credibility of the Bush administration’s environmental record with the American people, Congress and the world.”

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of power generating companies, said that the new administrator “must keep a sense of balance and proportion in mind; environmental rules developed without balance can undermine energy security, safety, consumer protection, and, in the end, emissions control.”

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Johnson’s nomination was “déjà vu all over again.” Pope noted that 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.”