Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the Ides of March: science vs. faith at the EPA?

You may have been as puzzled as we were at the cryptic note put out yesterday by the US EPA press shop regarding a teleconference this afternoon on “an introductory briefing on EPA's lab infrastructure review process.”

That is, until we read several news accounts this morning about a congressional hearing yesterday, in which EPA was castigated for budget cuts in its science and research programs. Subcommittee Chair Nick Lampson (D-TX) expressed concern that the reduction in research spending would undercut EPA’s mission of protecting health and the environment.

To the point of today’s spin cycle, Lampson also noted several internal EPA memos which alluded to future cost savings from consolidating and possibly closing EPA laboratories – a “dreadful” process, said Lampson, perhaps akin to the controversial EPA decision to close several libraries.

(The memos, which suggested that quite a few EPA scientists could face a Caesarian fate in this bloodbath, were first released last fall by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: )

At yesterday’s hearing, George Gray, a political toady who heads EPA’s research division, contended that EPA did not yet have a detailed plan to carry out these executions. This whole episode does appear to be further evidence that the Bush administration scorns science. But in favor of what? That brings us to the next item….

LET’S GO TO THE VIDEOTAPE! And let’s get right to the point: we were pretty astonished to find out that Steve Johnson, the career scientist who heads the EPA, is prominently featured in a promotional video for an evangelical proselytizing organization known as Christian Embassy.

This video, made available online a few months back by our good friends at AlterNet (See, caused a stir because it included Defense Department employees, in uniform.

You can still view the promotional video from the AlterNet site, but you have to watch the tape for several minutes to realize that it also prominently features Johnson, who is described only as “Honorable Steve Johnson, Presidential Appointee,” and is shown with President Bush and then at a desk with the American flag behind him.

“I can’t imagine doing this [job] without the Lord,” Johnson says. Of Christian Embassy, Johnson says, “it is not only reassuring and refreshing, but it’s essential.”

Johnson adds that “I don’t know of any other organization that would get up, come into my office at 6:15 in the morning to have a Bible study.”

It is interesting to hear the last line, by the way, knowing that some groups have had difficulty getting appointments with Johnson to discuss EPA policy and actions.

All this while Johnson presides over cuts in EPA’s research and science budget.

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