House Panel Probes Political Censorship of Science at EPA

October 8, 2008

More details of White House efforts to silence science at EPA emerged at a September 18, 2008, hearing of a House Energy investigations panel.

Efforts to inform the public about risks they face from products in commerce, industrial pollution, and industry-sought deregulation are squelched in a number of subtle ways, witnesses told the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI).

Witnesses included:

  • John B. Stephenson, Director for Natural Resources and Environment of the Government Accountability Office
  • Francesca Grifo, Director of the Science Integrity Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Deborah Rice, Maine Department of Environmental Protection
  • Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Daniel Parshley of the Glynn Environmental Coalition
  • Sharon H. Kneiss of the American Chemistry Council
  • Marcus Peacock, Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • George Gray, Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development.

UCS' Grifo told the panel of a survey of over 1,500 EPA scientists that revealed abuses whose results "can be measured in numbers of hospital visits and premature deaths."

The survey, Grifo said, showed a pattern of meddling by White House political appointees that included: "falsifying data and fabricating results, ... . selectively editing reports and creating false uncertainty, ... tampering with scientific procedures, ... intimidating and coercing scientists ... to alter scientific findings, ... censoring and suppressing scientists, ... hiding, suppressing, and delaying release of scientific findings, disregarding legally mandated science, allowing conflicts of interest, ... [and] corrupting scientific advisory panels."

Key among the complaints by EPA scientists was that political appointees "have prevented scientists from communicating with their colleagues, the media, and the public." Grifo said EPA leaders had stood scientific norms on their head by cultivating a "presumption of secrecy."

GAO's Stephenson testified of how the White House Office of Management and Budget had imposed three new layers of non-scientist review before publication of toxic risks through EPA's IRIS database. "Most importantly," NRDC scientist Jennifer Sass said, "all three of the new intervention points are shielded from public view." OMB commonly functions as a mechanism for short-circuiting openness requirements. While the Administrative Procedure Act requires contact between regulators and industry to be on the record, OMB can and does meet privately with industries who contribute heavily to presidential campaigns, then privately orders regulatory agencies to change their decisions.

The ACC's Kneiss attacked EPA's scientific process as biased against industry, resulting in setting some safety standards at levels more protective of the public than necessary. EPA's ORD chief Gray said there was no political influence on EPA science.

ADVISORY: PRESS BRIEFING, Friday, October 17, 2008, Roanoke, Virginia (an independent event for attendees at SEJ Annual Conference), 6:00-7:00 p.m. The Union of Concerned Scientists will release a new report, "Freedom to Speak? A Report Card on Federal Agency Media Policies and Practice." Speakers: Timothy Donaghy, Analyst for the UCS Scientific Integrity Program; Francesca Grifo, Director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. Location: Roanoke Ballroom (Roanoke Hotel & Conference Center). Snacks and beverages will be served.

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