Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nelson Blocking Vote on Next EPA Chief; Nominee Refused to Rule out Pesticide Study on Jacksonville Children

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nelson Blocking Vote on Next EPA Chief; Nominee Refused to Rule out Pesticide Study on Jacksonville Children

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is blocking a vote on the next chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the nominee refused to rule out a study on pesticides' effect on Jacksonville children.

The EPA suspended the planned study last November because of internal and outside criticism of testing the use of pesticides and other chemicals in 60 households with children 13 months or younger in Jacksonville. The agency's nominee for administrator, Steve Johnson, told a Senate committee on Wednesday he suspended the program until another review of its procedures was done this year.

However, he did not specifically oppose restarting the program, which was planned with the Duval County Health Department.

Nelson and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., reacted angrily, and Nelson said the agency was using infants as guinea pigs for research. Boxer also could block a vote on Johnson's confirmation, a spokesman said.

"I will ensure the EPA's research meets the highest ethical standards," Johnson wrote in a letter to Boxer on Wednesday.

Under Senate rules, a single senator can stop a nomination from having a confirmation vote, leaving the nomination in limbo until a compromise is reached.

"That hold will not be lifted until he cancels the study," Nelson said in a conference call with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat. She called the program "Tuskegee-like" -- a reference to studies of black people who were not given treatment for syphilis in the 1930s. Boxer said it was morally wrong to probably entice low-income families to use pesticides.

The White House did not return a call seeking comment, and EPA spokesman Rich Hood said he could not provide an immediate reaction to Nelson's hold. U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Rep. Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, both Republicans, could not be reached through their offices for comment Wednesday evening. …

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