Friday, September 19, 2008

Hearing On "Science Under Siege" At U.S. EPA

Sep 18: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Chaired by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) held a hearing entitled, Science Under Siege: Scientific Integrity at the Environmental Protection Agency. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS); State of Maine Department of Environmental Protection; Glynn Environmental Coalition; Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); American Chemistry Council; Marcus Peacock, Deputy Administrator U.S. EPA [Prepared testimony was not submitted]; and George Gray, Ph.D., Assistant Administrator U.S. EPA Office Research and Development.

Full Committee Chairman, Representative John Dingell (D-MI), delivered an opening statement saying, "Scientific integrity is an essential ingredient of nearly every decision the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes. Unfortunately, there is a substantial question as to whether that is always the case under the current Administration. There is growing evidence that Congress, State and local governments, the public, and even other countries cannot rely on EPA for honest science.

"The landmark survey of EPA scientists conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) confirms what many had feared -- the Bush Administration’s political interference with EPA scientists is pervasive and frequent. The UCS survey found that more than 500 EPA scientists knew of “many or some” cases where EPA political appointees had interfered with scientific decisions. Nearly 100 EPA scientists identified the White House Office of Management and Budget as the primary source of external interference. And more than 500 scientists said they feared retaliation for speaking candidly about EPA’s scientific work. Clearly, we are not talking about an isolated incident.

"The testimony we will hear today exposes a broad pattern of political meddling by the Bush Administration, directed at EPA scientists and science. A prime example is the Administration’s recent changes to the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process, under which chemicals are evaluated to determine the extent to which they may be hazardous to human health. . . Under this new system, the two largest polluters in the United States -- the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy -- are permitted to provide secret comments to OMB, which then has the final say on what goes into the IRIS system. Even EPA is not permitted to see these comments. And, because all of this is now done in secrecy, it is not entirely clear who else may have a hand in the process. . ."

At the hearing GAO released a new report entitled, New Assessment Process Further Limits the Credibility and Timeliness of EPA's Assessments of Toxic Chemicals (GAO-08-1168T, September 18, 2008). In the report, GAO found, "In March 2008, GAO concluded that the IRIS database was at serious risk of becoming obsolete because EPA had not been able to complete timely, credible assessments or decrease its backlog of 70 ongoing assessments -- a total of 4 were completed in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. In addition, assessment process changes EPA had recently made, as well as other changes EPA was considering at the time of GAO’s review, would further reduce the credibility and timeliness of IRIS assessments."

GAO said, "EPA issued its revised IRIS assessment process in April 2008. The new process is largely the same as the draft GAO evaluated and does not respond to the recommendations in GAO’s March 2008 report. Moreover, some key changes are likely to further exacerbate the productivity and credibility concerns GAO identified. . . Instead of streamlining the process, as GAO recommended, EPA has institutionalized a process that from the outset is estimated to take 6 to 8 years. This is problematic because of the substantial rework such cases often require to take into account changing science and methodologies. . . Little or no progress has been made on assessments of chemicals highlighted in our report, including naphthalene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene (TCE)."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony and a webcast (
click here). Access the complete statement from Chairman Dingell (click here). Access the GAO report (click here). Access multiple WIMS-eNewsUSA blog postings on the IRIS issue (click here). [*Toxics]