Democratic Senators stall confirmation of new EPA head

When President Bush chose 24-year U.S. EPA veteran, scientist, and all-around mild-mannered dude Stephen Johnson to head the agency, observers expected no controversy. But Johnson’s ongoing confirmation hearings are proving them wrong. It seems those pesky Democrats can always find something to complain about — like, um, poisoning children. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) pledged to put a parliamentary hold on Johnson’s confirmation until he unequivocally promised to halt the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study (or — macabre irony alert — CHEERS). The research program, sponsored by the EPA and the American Chemistry Council, offered families $970 (and a camcorder!) if they agreed to expose their children to pesticides and allow researchers to study the effects. The program was suspended last year, and Johnson said its future hinged on the outcome of ongoing ethical and scientific reviews. But that did not satisfy Boxer, who said the hold would stay put “until this program is canceled — no ifs, ands, or buts.”