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Four Senate Democrats call for EPA chief to resign

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(Read caption) EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson speaks in Manhattan in April.

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Saying that he had repeatedly bowed to political pressure and had made misleading statements to Congress, four Democratic senators Tuesday called for Stephen Johnson to resign as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to news reports.

The four senators also asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to launch an investigation into whether Mr. Johnson had lied in his testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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The committee's chair, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, said that she has "lost all confidence" in Johnson's ability to carry out the EPA's mission. Joining her in condemning Johnson were three other Senate Democrats on the committee: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

"Mr. Johnson has consistently chosen special interests over the American people's interests in protecting health and safety," said Sen. Boxer at a press conference Tuesday. "He has become a secretive and dangerous ally of polluters, and we cannot stand by and allow more damage to be done."

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday (ThinkProgress has a transcript with video), Sen. Whitehouse accused Johnson of siding with polluters in establishing standards for ozone, lead, soot, and greenhouse-gas emissions; undermining the agency's legal and scientific integrity; bending to political influence from the White House; declining to appear before the EPW committee; and lying to Congress.

"This behavior not only degrades his once-great agency," Whitehouse said in the speech, "it drives the dagger of dishonesty deep in the very vitals of American democracy."

The four senators' letter to Attorney General Mukasey (a PDF is available here via ThinkProgress) say that Johnson provided sworn testimony to the EPW committee in January that was inconsistent with subsequent testimony of a high-ranking EPA official.

Johnson stated to the Senate that he independently arrived at his decision to refuse to grant California a waiver allowing the state to regulate tailpipe greenhouse emissions as a pollutant. But in June, Jason Burnett, then the agency's No. 3 official, testified that Johnson had determined that California had met all the requirements for the waiver, but then denied it following pressure from the White House.

Johnson reportedly denies the allegations, and his spokesman has sharply criticized the senators.

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"Sen. Boxer and her crew have been incapable of passing responsible environmental legislation, and they should be looking into a mirror instead of a camera," said EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar to the National Journal's CongressDaily. "The administrator's comments to Congress have been truthful and he will continue to lead the agency."

At least one senator has leaped to Johnson's defense. According to the Associated Press, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the EPW committee and a noted climate-change denier, said, "This is simply more election year politicking. Nothing more need be said."