A Vote Lost in the Smog
Friday, September 29, 2006; Page A19
One person's consensus is another person's split vote, at least in Washington.
Last week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson set new rules for the amount of fine particulate matter, or soot, that Americans can breathe in any given day. (He cut the existing standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 35.) But the administrator decided to maintain the standard for the amount of soot Americans breathe on average over the course of a year, at 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, by a 20 to 2 vote, had urged the agency last year to reduce the annual soot standard to 13 or 14 micrograms per cubic meter. When reporters pointed this out in a telephone conference call on Thursday, he emphasized that the panel's recommendation was not unanimous.
"We didn't ignore any recommendations. In fact, the opposite's true," Johnson said. "There was not complete agreement on the standard. This is complex science, and reasonable people can disagree."
Those comments did not please the advisory panel's chair, Rogene Henderson. This week, Henderson -- a senior scientist emeritus at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute -- called Johnson's comments "a little disingenuous," since "20 members were in total agreement" on the issue.
Given that level of agreement, she added, Johnson should have heeded the committee's advice. "The public is not well served by circumventing the scientific advisory process," she said.
Nonetheless, EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said her boss stands by his comments. "As Administrator Johnson said last week, wherever the science gave us a clear picture, we took clear action," Wood said.
-- Juliet Eilperin