Normally, yesterday's sudden ouster of EPA Midwest regional administrator Mary Gade-- a political appointee and active Republican who reportedly clashed with Administrator Stephen Johnson and other superiors over the cleanup of chemical pollution-- wouldn't merit a response from a blog as narrowly focused as Warming Law. But then again, most EPA regimes haven't shown the all-around disrespect for the law that might well have played out here, following the same pattern we've been seeing with regards to global warming.
Robert Sussman, a former Deputy EPA Administrator, explains this broader significance well:
If Mary stood up for her career staff and pushed for strong action to abate contamination, she was only performing her job under the environmental laws as she saw it. It is hard to believe that Mary, an astute and succesful lawyer in private practice with a long track record of implementing the federal contamination laws, would overstep legal boundaries. If her only sin was zeal in protecting the public, firing her was wrong and will send a troubling message to EPA employees all across the country who are trying to do their jobs. Clearly, it’s up to Steve Johnson to explain why he fired Mary and up to Congress to investigate the circumstances.
Therein, friends, lies the rub. The Bush EPA's legal problems transcend oft-heard (though not at all inaccurate) cries of politicization, upending traditional agency practice and creed, and bad policy choices, and boil down to an opportunistic disrespect for the rule of law. Sussman, to his credit, has been making the same point. If his present suspicions are correct, this latest move raises the stakes even more.
The Wonk Room is now reporting that next Wednesday, a furious Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (himself a former US Attorney) will be raising this matter at an oversight hearing looking at the "politicization of the EPA." From the looks of the witness list, its focus is on the undermining of science and public health. That's not to be minimized in and of itself, but in order to truly get to the heart of the matter and take it to a place beyond the sheer political scheming at work lately, the Senator and his fellow EPW committee members would do well to place some additional emphasis on damag done to the rule of law.