Head of EPA pesticide office resigns
NCC Oct. 31, 2011 9:07am
In an internal Oct. 25 memo, Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention which is responsible for pesticide regulations, announced that he would be resigning his position effective on Nov. 30. Owens stated that the reason for his departure is to spend more time with his family in Arizona.
Owens was nominated by President Obama in April 2009 and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in July 2009. Previously, he served as the director of the Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and was the longest-serving director in ADEQ history. Before joining ADEQ, he was a practicing environmental attorney in Phoenix for 14 years. The administration has issued no statement regarding Owens’ replacement.
Previous Statements by Steve Owens:
Statement from Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) Under this Administration, EPA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of all Americans. Administrator Jackson has made it a priority to examine how we manage and assess the risk of chemicals, including pesticides, and the Obama EPA will take a hard look at atrazine and other substances. This thorough review will rely on transparency and sound science, including independent scientific peer review. We will continue to closely track new scientific developments and will determine whether a change in our regulatory position is appropriate.
Rather than take an internship at a large Nashville law firm like many of his classmates at Vanderbilt Law School, Owens accepted a small stipend during the summer of 1980 to work on the staff of a young congressman from Tennessee.
“I wound up spending the summer working on the Superfund legislation that Al Gore was a primary sponsor of,” said Owens. “It was one of the best jobs I ever had.” (1)WhoRunsGov.com Interview with Steve Owens, Oct. 8, 2009
After graduating, he served as counsel to the House Science and Technology subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Whether investigating biotechnology or toxins in baby formula,(2)Sack, Kevin and Toner, Robin, “In Congress, Gore Selected Issues Ready for Prime Time,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2000 Owens learned that more often than not, the best information was found in scientific reasoning.
The lesson stayed with him over the years as he negotiated new territory, transitioning between public service and private practice and from the hills of Tennessee to the Arizona desert.
During his tenure as the longest-serving director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Owens championed sound science and transparent decision-making, determined to restore integrity to a department that had become entrenched with special interests under previous governance. (1)WhoRunsGov.com Interview with Steve Owens, Oct. 8, 2009
Owens has set a similar tone for his office at EPA, saying his primary objective is to follow the rule of law and ensure the regulatory process is as clear as possible. At his nomination hearing in May 2009, he reaffirmed the priorities outlined by EPA head Lisa P. Jackson, saying, "Scientific decisions should reflect the expertise of the agency’s career scientists and independent advisers.” (3)Statement of Stephen A. Owens, Hearing on Nominations, Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senate, May 12, 2009
Owens' actions, such as calling for scientific review of a commonly used herbicide, already have begun to reinvigorate the EPA, an agency long criticized for a lack of disclosure. (4)Turnbaugh, Brian, “EPA keeps the transparency coming,” The Fine Print, OMB Watch, Oct. 2, 2009
In Their Own Words