(CNSNews.com) - This week's resignation by a top official at the Environmental Protection Agency was the act of "a pretty strident individual who wanted to make a little noise as he left," according to Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
But the departure of Eric V. Schaeffer, who directed the office of regulatory enforcement at EPA, could end up making a lot of noise. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has called Schaeffer's resignation a "disheartening development" and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which Lieberman chairs, plans to begin a series of hearings next week on what the senator calls "the administration's troubling environmental record."
In his letter of resignation to EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, Schaeffer wrote that he felt he was "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."
Friday, Dr. Bruce Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, went a step further, saying Schaeffer's resignation was "another clear signal that George W. Bush is the most anti-environmental president this country has ever endured.
"When a respected high level official from a previous Bush administration abandons ship, you know our air and water are in serious trouble," Blackwelder said.
Schaeffer was hired at EPA 12 years ago, during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, the father of the current president. Schaeffer became director of EPA's regulatory enforcement five years ago.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Helm said Schaeffer's departure was a case of "a good guy jumping overboard while the rats continue to steer the ship.
"What is happening here is a serious indication to the public that wealthy polluters are driving environmental policy through the Bush administration," Helm said. "This should be clear to every single person in America, that George Bush is absolutely no friend to the earth."
Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice, agrees.
"This administration has made repeated attempts over the last year to weaken enforcement of our clean water, clean air, and hazardous waste laws. Weakening enforcement of the law means more pollution in our communities and that means greater health risks to people across the country," Mulhern said.
But Ben Lieberman, who is not related to Sen. Lieberman, said none of [Schaeffer's]
criticisms "are particularly new."
Lieberman said many of Bush's policies are working well, and a lot of the new criticism is much to do about nothing. "I can't agree with Mr. Schaeffer and his parting shots," he said.
"Whenever there is a Republican in the White House, they make those pronouncements on if not a daily basis, at least a weekly basis. I think the risk is the Republican administration believing it and trying to appease environmentalists," Ben Lieberman said.
Lieberman also questioned the way environmentalist go about the debate on environmental protection. "They are too enamored with federal programs, micro-management, and red tape and not focused enough on results. And that's where Republicans are at their best.
"[Environmentalists] tend to be very stridently partisan and you can never appease them on the issues, and in trying to do so, you're probably just promoting policies that do more economic harm than environmental good," Ben Lieberman said.
E-mail a news tip to Matt Pyeatt.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.