President Bush recently named Stephen Johnson to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Johnson spent his first days on the job doing little more than announcing two clean air regulations bequea-thed by his predecessors. He is now free to focus on what should be his main challenge: restoring the professional credibility of an agency that has been treated like an extension of the White House political operation.

The agency has a long tradition of providing solid science and independent analysis. But that reputation is in tatters because it has been asked repeatedly over the last few years to manipulate or withhold science for political ends. The administration says the rule will achieve a 25 per cent reduction in power plant mercury emissions by 2010 and a 70 per cent reduction by 2018. But these targets could have been stronger and industry could have been asked to do much. According to two separate independent reports the agency in effect was given a goal favourable to industry and then ordered to work backward to justify it. Agency officials point out, correctly, that power plant emissions in US contribute only a small fraction to global emissions. But even if true, these arguments do not relieve the government of its obligation to set the most exacting standards it reasonably can and, more important, to behave in a truthful manner. — The New York Times