During today’s confirmation hearing for Lisa Jackson, nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse urged her to get an agency Inspector General who would investigate problems with EPA’s mismanagement and possible illegalities under the Bush administration, and to beware of the tendency of the White House Office of Management and Budget to corrupt the regulatory process.
post by Anne Polansky
Sen. Whitehouse said: “I advise you to get a good IG [Inspector General].”
We agree. It will be important for the nation going forward to look back at past malfeasance, not just at EPA but throughout the federal government, to make the necessary corrections and to establish appropriate safeguards against future abuses of office.
Sen. Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) has gained stature in the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, as a member who conducts effective oversight of EPA. He was joined by three other senators in June 2008 calling for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson’s resignation, after it became apparent that Johnson had succumbed to White House pressure to deny California the waiver needed for the state to regulate carbon dioxide in tailpipe emissions. Johnson had earlier testified before the Committee that the decision to deny the waiver was his alone. Sen. Whitehouse made several other charges against Johnson as well in a speech delivered on the Senate floor (shown in video and transcribed here). An excerpt:
The charges are serious, and fall in three separate categories: his repeated decisions putting the interests of corporate polluters before science and the law, on questions critical to the protection of our environment and the health of the American people; his deliberate actions to degrade the procedures and institutional safeguards that sustain the agency; and his apparent dishonesty in testimony before Congress.
Sen. Whitehouse also advised Lisa Jackson to “watch out for the OMB [Office of Management and Budget],” calling them ”bullyboys” and asserting that OMB regulatory review procedures were too often used to “corrupt the agency process and to insert political considerations behind closed doors.” Again, kudos to the Senator for raising this problem and admonishing Jackson to be mindful of the increasingly frequent and inappropriate ways OMB has exerted its authority over the regulatory process through its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. We voiced the same concern in our suggested questions for Jackson submitted to members of the EPW Committee, including Sen. Whitehouse, in advance of the hearing.
The view expressed by Whitehouse was echoed in a post today by Arianna Huffington titled ”Memo to Obama: Moving Forward Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Also Look Back.” She quotes Dawn Johnson, President-elect Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel:
“We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.”
In this spirit, we look forward to continuing our watchdog role and encourage other Members of Congress to join Sen. Whitehouse in urging a full investigation and airing of the many instances in which EPA and other agencies, under the Bush presidency, were kept from carrying out their responsibilities, yielded to corporate and White House political pressure at the expense of the public interest, and promoted a culture of civil servants unable to speak their views and scientific conclusions for fear of losing their jobs. Instances of misrule must be understood and exposed so they can be corrected and, more importantly, prevented from happening again. Simply moving on without looking back, we have little chance of learning from history and avoiding the mistakes of the past.