Clear­ing the air on the EPA

EPA grants to its ad­vis­ers trig­gers con­flict-of-in­ter­est query

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Steve Mil­loy

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?” 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.

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