"Who's afraid of a library book, a library book, a library book? Who's afraid of a library book, so close to the election?"
I've changed the old nursery rhyme a bit, because EPA Administrator Steve Johnson isn't afraid of the big bad wolf (that's Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's phobia.) No, Johnson is scared of libraries. Ever since he shut down the EPA's network of regional libraries without legal authorization, Johnson has been stonewalling Congressional mandates to restore the system.
He's now reopened the library system -- but in name only. The Chicago regional library, serving the entire Midwest, will be housed in an area one-tenth its former size -- a space as big as the men's restroom -- and there will be no effort to house its former Great Lakes reference collection at all. The library in Dallas will have two staff workstations and only one visitor workstation -- and apparently no books.
Even this is not enough. To make sure that no one gets unauthorized access to facts or science, all of the EPA's information resources have been put under the control of a Chief Information Czar and Censor, (my title) a political appointee named Molly O'Neill. O'Neill has scrapped all of the EPA's long-standing, professionally developed information-management policies and will manage everything herself.
This behavior seems inexplicable -- anybody seriously seeking to make trouble for the EPA's policies can find this information somewhere else if they dig hard enough. All Johnson is accomplishing is making the work of researchers much harder.
But this puzzle begins to make sense if you remember that Johnson is presiding over -- if perhaps not actually creating -- a virtual reign of terror at his agency. No one at the EPA can talk about anything that matters -- unless the White House wants them to. When EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett was deposed by attorneys for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the agency's decision to deny California a waiver to implement its clean-car program, he revealed that Administrator Johnson clearly had been leaning towards granting at least a partial waiver. Only after Johnson was summoned to the White House, did he change his position. But Burnett's lawyer made it clear that the EPA would not permit him to reveal what he knew about whom Johnson had met with at the White House, much less what Johnson was told -- even though Burnett was an EPA employee and not an advisor to the President (which might have legitimately enabled him to claim executive privilege). The most common phrase in Burnett's deposition is "Objection. Same grounds" by Burnett's lawyer, referring to the EPA's order that Burnett not reveal anything Johnson told him about his White House meetings.
Burnett has submitted his resignation to EPA -- so he will not longer be subject to this reign of terror. He's clearly very upset at both the California clean-car decision and Johnson's failure to act on the basis of the science in setting clean air standards for ozone.
But the rest of the Agency still has 234 more days to survive. Johnson is being terrorized by the White House, and those who are fearful, govern by fear.