Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Johnson, a 24-year veteran of the agency who has been acting administrator since his predecessor, Michael O. Leavitt, became secretary of health and human services, was greeted warmly by Republicans and faced predictably pointed questions from Democrats over recent agency initiatives, including emission control rules put into place last month.
Ms. Boxer's objections were based on a little-known research program near Jacksonville, Fla., sponsored by the agency and the American Chemistry Council, that offered money to low-income families willing to allow the agency to measure the effects of pesticides on their children under one year of age. The project, called Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study, or Cheers, was suspended last year after negative public reaction that prompted the agency to call in outside experts to assess its feasibility.
The program was limited to families in Duval County that routinely used pesticides inside their homes. It offered parents $970 over two years if they made sure their young children went about their usual activities as the use of pesticides continued. Researchers would then visit the home every three to six months to collect data.
In a letter that reached Ms. Boxer several hours after she raised her concerns, Mr. Johnson said, "No additional work will be conducted on this study subject to the outcome of external scientific and ethical review."
But that was well short of her demands. Calling the program "appalling, unethical and immoral," Ms. Boxer implored Mr. Johnson "to pull the plug on this program tomorrow." In an interview later, she said she would do whatever she could to hold up Mr. Johnson's confirmation so long as the program had any chance of being revived.
"Until it's canceled, I will do anything I can to stop this nomination," she said. "This program is the worst kind of thing; it's environmental injustice where children are the victims."