EPA Scientists Report 'Political Interference'

Eight hundred and eighty-nine of nearly 1,600 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff scientists reported that they experienced political interference in their work over the last five years, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Our investigation found an agency in crisis," said Francesca Grifo, director of the union's Scientific Integrity Program. "Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health, and our democracy itself."

The report, which was released April 23, comes amidst a flurry of activity. Congress is investigating administration interference in a new chemical toxicity review process as well as California's request to regulate tailpipe emissions. And in early May, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing into political interference in the new EPA ground-level ozone pollution standard.

The investigation included dozens of interviews with current and former EPA staff members, analysis of government documents, and a questionnaire sent to 5,419 EPA scientists by Iowa State University's Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology. The questionnaire generated responses from 1,586 scientists but not all of the respondents answered every question.

Among the report's top findings:

• 394 scientists (31 percent) personally experienced frequent or occasional "statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists' findings."

• 285 scientists (22 percent) said they frequently or occasionally personally experienced "selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome."

• 224 scientists (17 percent) said they had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document."

• Of the 969 agency veterans with more than 10 years of EPA experience, 409 scientists (43 percent) said interference has occurred more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year period. Only 43 scientists (4 percent) said interference occurred less often.

• Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express concerns about the EPA's work without fear of retaliation; 492 (31 percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382 (24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency.

UCS's investigation revealed political interference is most pronounced in offices where scientists write regulations and at the National Center for Environmental Assessment, where scientists conduct risk assessments that could lead to strengthened regulations.

"The investigation shows researchers are generally continuing to do their work," said Dr. Grifo. "But their scientific findings are tossed aside when it comes time to write regulations."

Nearly 100 scientists identified the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the primary culprit.

Seven-hundred-eighty-three respondents (51 percent) said EPA policies do not let scientists speak freely to the news media about their findings. Scientists also shared anecdotes about being barred from presenting their research at conferences and their difficulties clearing research publication articles with EPA managers.

Previous union investigations of other federal agencies show that the problem of political interference is not unique to EPA.

For the report, go to www.ucsusa.org/EPAscience.

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