Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a detailed survey of nearly 1,600 EPA scientists, the end product of an investigation-- similar to what it has conducted for seven other agencies-- of scientific manipulation by political appointees. UCS found that approximately 60 percent of the scientists "said they had personally experienced at least one instance of political interference in their work over the last five years." More troubling, from our perspective, were reports such as the following:
"[The Office of Management and Budget (OMB)] and the White House have, in some cases, compromised the integrity of EPA rules and policies; their influence, largely hidden from the public and driven by industry lobbying, has decreased the stringency of proposed regulations for non-scientific, political reasons," said a scientist from one of the agency's regional offices. "Because the real reasons can't be stated, the regulations contain a scientific rationale with little or no merit."
Now, on a purely legal level, politicized decision-making is potentially disturbing but not intrinsically improper, and pressure from OMB has long been a source of internal EPA consternation; UCS notes this much in pegging this report to a pre-existing call for stronger legislative action against the politicization of science. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) will surely continue that push when he takes on embattled EPA head Stephen Johnson at an oversight hearing next month.
But aside from the disturbing frequency and scope documented by this and other investigations of the Bush administration, our main concern remains that in many key instances, EPA political staff and other administration officials have intervened not only in contravention of scientists, but in contravention of existing law.
The intrinsic problem with the EPA's most controversial global warming decisions isn't just that they were politicized, overruled staff and the normal decision-making process, and destroyed agency morale. It's that in these cases, the statute (not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court) is clear that they had no choice but to follow, or otherwise rebut, the clear scientific and legal evidence calling for strong action.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar condescendingly told the Associated Press that the report simply reflected the "passion" that agency scientists brought to their work. We agree-- agency scientists do evidently have great passion for doing their legal and professional duty to follow the science in these cases. Their boss-- and those
pulling his strings influencing his decisions from elsewhere in the Executive Branch--could stand to learn a thing or two from their example.