Clearing the air on the EPA
EPA grants to its advisers triggers conflict-of-interest query
Rep. Joe Barton last week took the first official baby step in exposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s corrupt scientific advisory process. In his opening statement at last week’s House Energy and Commerce hearing about the EPA’S 2013 budget, Mr. Barton of Texas came as close as any Republican ever has to reading EPA Director Lisa P. Jackson the riot act about the agency’s ever-increasing contempt for science, economics, Congress and even the Constitution.
While much of the aforesaid is widely known but typically left unsaid by timid congressional Republicans, Mr. Barton also raised an issue that should shock the conscience of anyone concerned about ethics in government: financial conflict-of-interest among EPA science advisers.
“I want to discuss the EPA’S science and research funding and support activities such as the quality assurance supervisory budget and the committees that monitor the EPA’S internal activities,” Mr. Barton told Ms. Jackson.
“You fund research with grants to people who also serve on your review committees. Is this a conflict of interest? Almost every single member of your Clean Air Science Advisory Committee has been directly or indirectly funded for research. This handand-glove policymaking by those appointed to also do your research and being funded by you at the same time is not appropriate. They are often asked to review other research they themselves were a party to on the original research team. How could one possibly expect them to be objective in any way?”
Junkscience.com undertook to put some meat on the bones of what Mr. Barton alleged and discovered that of the seven members of CASAC, six have received or still are receiving substantial sums in the form of research grants from the agency.
According to EPA records, CASAC Chairman Jonathan M. Samet is listed as a principal investigator on grants from the agency totaling $9,526,921. The other CASAC board members have received grants from the EPA: George Allen ($3,907,111); Ana DiezRoux ($31,343,081); H. Christopher Frey ($2,956,432); G. Armistead Russell ($20,130,736); and Helen Suh ($10,962,364).
Although EPA records do not list seventh board member Kathleen Weathers as a principal investigator receiving any grants from the agency, her employer, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, is listed as the lead institution in EPA grants totaling $3,570,926.
Other than for Ms. Weathers, these sums don’t include any grants awarded to the CASAC members’ institutions in which the CASAC member is not listed as the principal investigator. So these sums could just be the tip of the iceberg.
While the above-mentioned information is available to the public, not only do you have to look for it, you’ve got to first imagine that such immense and obvious conflicts are possible in the first place.
The EPA, after all, dissuades the public from even considering the possibility of this issue, as the first statement on the agency’s website is, “The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) provides independent advice to the EPA Administrator on the technical bases for EPA’S national ambient air quality standards.” I suppose it depends on what the meaning of “independent” is.
So exactly what is the “independent” aspect of a process in which researchers are paid millions of dollars to conduct research and then get to review and rubber-stamp that research so it invariably advances the EPA’S own political, regulatory and bureaucratic interests?
Mr. Samet, the CASAC chairman, recently opined in the New England Journal of Medicine that air-quality rules should be tightened “for ozone and particulate-matter pollution, because no thresholds have been identified below which there is no risk at all.”
Given that the Clean Air Act technically prohibits the consideration of cost in setting ozone and particulatematter standards, the view of the handsomely compensated Mr. Samet effectively provides cover for the Obama EPA to regulate industry, agriculture and the public as it chooses, regardless of scientific reality or economic practicality. It has done so already with rules such as the recently promulgated Cross-state Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, which will cost our economy tens of billions of dollars for no benefits in public health.
Coming down the pike are the recently delayed, more stringent standards for ground-level ozone and the tightening of fine particulate-matter regulations — rules that could cost more than a trillion dollars and millions of jobs by 2020.
America’s air is clean and safe. But Americans will not be learning this from CASAC’S advice to the EPA. Whether this is because CASAC’S members are incompetent or corrupt is anyone’s guess.
But thanks to Mr. Barton, the subject has been broached. Let the debate and investigation begin.