Bush picks agency insider for EPA

Selection of a scientist wins bipartisan praise


WASHINGTON - President Bush has nominated a career agency insider who rose through the ranks in both Democratic and Republican administrations to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Stephen Johnson, 53, whom a former colleague praised as "the ultimate technocrat," has been the EPA's acting administrator since Michael O. Leavitt left to become health and human services secretary in January. He's the first career EPA employee to head the agency.

His selection yesterday won bipartisan praise. It even won praise from environmental and industry groups locked in battles over Bush administration policies that generally ease strict regulations in favor of industry-friendly policies.

For most of his 24 years at the EPA, Johnson held nonpolitical jobs in the part of the agency that regulates pesticides. He was promoted to a senior position there by the Clinton administration. In 2001, Bush named him assistant administrator for pesticides, which made him a political appointee, and the president has promoted Johnson twice since then.

"He knows the EPA from the ground up and has a passion for its mission - to protect the health of our citizens and to guarantee the quality of our air, water and land for generations to come," Bush said yesterday.

The choice of the native Washingtonian is a departure from other Bush second-term Cabinet appointees, nearly all of whom have closer and longer ties to the president and the Republican Party. Johnson is part of the cadre of EPA career bureaucrats who stay in Washington no matter who's in power, a group with which industry and many Bush supporters often clash.

He has made so many friends in his tenure that Republicans and Democrats, industry and environmental groups all claim him for their side.

"His selection suggests to me that the Bush administration is trying to depoliticize to some extent environmental policy, which may in fact produce better results going forward," said Dan Esty, the director of Yale University's Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "We have gotten ourselves into a deep partisan divide here. And the attempt to put into place a top guy who really comes from the more nonpolitical bureaucracy may be an attempt to get beyond that."

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