Survey: Half of EPA Scientists Complain of Political Interference, Waxman to Investigate

From the AP:

The Union of Concerned Scientists said that more than half of the nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work….

Nearly 400 scientists said they had witnessed EPA officials misrepresenting scientific findings, 284 said they had witness the “selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome” and 224 scientists said they had been directed to “inappropriately exclude or alter technical information” in an EPA document.

Just another indication that the EPA has been possibly the most politicized agency in the Bush administration (a bold claim, I know). And what does the EPA have to say about it?

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar attributed some of the discontent to the “passion” scientists have toward their work.

Update: You can see the report here. In response to the UCS survey, one scientist at an EPA regional office wrote: “Do not trust the Environmental Protection Agency to protect your environment.”

Update: In a letter to EPA chief Stephen Johnson today, House oversight committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) warned Johnson that he can expect some questions about this when he testifies before the committee in May. That letter is below.

Update: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), calling the report “a scathing indictment of the Bush administration’s repeated efforts to twist, misuse, and ignore scientific facts in favor of special interests” has also let it be known that the Senate environmental committee will be digging in on this.

Dear Administrator Johnson:

Today the Union of Concerned Scientists released the results of its survey of nearly 1,600 EPA scientists. The survey’s disturbing findings indicate that EPA scientists face significant political interference with their work. I have enclosed the report for your convenience and ask that you be prepared to respond to its findings at May’s Oversight Committee hearing.

Almost 1,600 EPA scientists completed the Union of Concerned Scientists survey questionnaire. Over 22% of these scientists reported that “selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome” occurred “frequently” or “occasionally” at EPA. 94 EPA scientists reported being frequently or occasionally “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document.” Nearly 200 EPA scientists said that they have frequently or occasionally been in “situations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific findings.”

Political appointees at EPA and other agencies appear to be a major source of political interference. Over 500 EPA scientists knew of “many” or “some” cases “where EPA political appointees had inappropriately involved themselves in scientific decisions.” Even more EPA scientists knew of “many” or “some” cases “where political appointees from other federal agencies,” including the White House, “had inappropriately involved themselves in decisions.” In open-ended essay responses, “nearly a hundred EPA scientists identified the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as a primary culprit.” These essays included numerous comments like “OMB should stop interfering in EPA Science” and “[t]he unprecedented and unwarranted influence of the EPA’s scientific work and findings by the White House and OMB must end.”

Overall, 889 EPA scientists said they “personally experienced at least one incident of political interference during the past five years.” Based on the survey, there may have been as many as 2,604 incidents of political interference at EPA during that period of time.

When asked about the role of science in EPA decisionmaking, the scientists provided some troubling responses. Nearly half of the scientists said that EPA determinations “occasionally, seldom, or never make use of the best judgment of its scientific staff.” Over 550 scientists reported that the agency “occasionally, seldom, or never heeds advice from independent scientific advisory committees.”

These survey results suggest a pattern of ignoring and manipulating science in EPA’s decisionmaking. At May’s hearing, the Committee will examine one apparent example of this disturbing trend: EPA’s recent revision of the national air quality standards for ozone. You should also expect members of the Committee to ask about these survey results and other evidence of political interference with science at EPA.


Henry A. Waxman

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