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EPA scientists report political interference

Thu., April 24, 2008

WASHINGTON – More than half the Environmental Protection Agency scientists who responded to an independent survey made public Wednesday said that they had witnessed political interference in scientific decisions at the agency during the past five years.

The claim comes from a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group that sent questionnaires to 5,500 EPA scientists and obtained 1,586 responses. Among the scientists’ complaints were that data sometimes were used selectively to justify a specific regulatory outcome and that political appointees had directed them to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information in EPA scientific documents.

“Things are not as they should be at the EPA,” said Francesca Grifo, director of the group’s scientific integrity program. “Scientific findings are being suppressed and distorted. Eight-hundred-and-eighty-nine scientists personally experienced at least one type of political interference. … Scientists are being pressured by outside interests.”

More than 100 respondents identified the Office of Management and Budget as the source of the interference, while hundreds also blamed industry groups and other agencies, Grifo said. Morale is down because of such pressures, she said.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the findings will not change anything. He said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, a career scientist at the agency for 27 years, carefully weighs the input of staff scientists in making key policy decisions.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Johnson Wednesday telling him to prepare to answer questions about the survey findings at a hearing next month.

“These survey results suggest a pattern of ignoring and manipulating science in EPA’s decision making,” Waxman wrote.

Conducted between June and September of last year, the survey was not based on a random sample and its findings are not scientific. But Grifo contended that it represents the first attempt to more broadly assess a problem that has frequently surfaced in anecdotal reports alleging the pollution of science by political considerations at the nation’s premier environmental agency.


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