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Editorial: A Bush Legacy

Fixing the EPA

The Sunoco Refinery blows smoke into the air south of Center City. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )
The Sunoco Refinery blows smoke into the air south of Center City. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )Read more

Among the many things on President-elect Barack Obama's growing to-do list is overhauling the emasculated Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the Bush administration, the EPA became overly politicized, sided with corporate polluters, and often ignored findings and recommendations by its own scientists.

A four-part series in The Inquirer that concludes today details many of the EPA's failings during the Bush years. Although some of the EPA's troubles have been touched on before, the series connects all the dots in one compelling compendium.

Sadly, a similar exercise could be done examining other government agencies that have also been blatantly politicized by the Bush administration, including the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Interior Department.

In the EPA series, Inquirer reporters John Shiffman and John Sullivan show how the agency charged with safeguarding the nation's health and environment systematically eroded its mission over the years.

In the most glaring example, the EPA backed off a finding that said climate change was a risk to public welfare. The findings would have led to the nation's first mandatory global-warming regulations. Instead, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson watered-down the final report, which delayed action to combat global warming.

More broadly, under Bush the EPA's funding was slashed, scientific findings censored, and enforcement de-emphasized.

Bush's first EPA head, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, resigned in 2003 after several public clashes with the administration. She later said Vice President Cheney's efforts to ease air-pollution controls caused her to step down.

Johnson took over in 2005. Like too many other Bush appointees, he has been a yes man, more intent on eliminating regulations to benefit business interests than on protecting the environment. Johnson came to the EPA post with the help of a business lobbyist who was close to Bush's political chief, Karl Rove.

Whitman said Johnson, a scientist who advanced through the ranks of EPA, was handicapped even if he wanted to resist Bush, because he did not have the political clout other administrators brought to the job.

Many of the EPA's key decisions have been thrown out by federal courts. Over and over again, even Republican-appointed judges have found the EPA's legal justifications for its decisions to be a joke. In several instances, the courts cited fairy tales as the only way to justify some of the EPA's decisions.

The legal rebukes show how far the EPA has fallen under Bush. The Inquirer series makes clear that Obama must move immediately to resurrect the agency.