Tuesday, May 6, 2008
In a stunning development, following much recent public scrutiny on the activities of the EPA in matters ranging from ozone limit policies to a shady history in pushing forth for regulation of BPA, to controversial links with chemical companies and failure to protect children - the Bush administration has now changed the EPA process for chemical reviews further which now will allow for a delay in scientific assessments and will further open the process to dangerous politicization. The move should be of grave concern for anyone with an interest in public health and safety...meaning everyone.
The new policy announced last month would allow the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as well as other agencies to offer input on assessments of long term exposure to chemicals. EPA will now involve OMB at every stage of the assessment process. Previously, OMB reviewed a final version of the draft assessment before EPA subjected it to external peer review. OMB not only already reviews assessments — but often edits them— incorporating agencies' proposed and final regulations. The office under the new policy will have several opportunities to review and alter the scientific findings that serve as the very basis for chemical exposure standards.
"It is a precursor to doing anything else," said John B. Stephenson, the GAO's (Governmental Accountability Office) director of natural resources and environmental issues. "That's how you decide whether you need to regulate or not." EPA officials also insist that such communication and engagement is for the benefit of the public, by "drawing on outside expertise."
To make matter worst the new effort is also classified as "deliberative" by the OMB, or to translate - it can be kept secret from the public and inevitably from scientific debate.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the integrity of the program is in jeopardy.
"Shunting scientists aside . . . is so obviously a problem," she said during the committee hearing. "No one should be in that room in the early risk assessment stages except the scientists and the people concerned about health. . . . They have tainted and corrupted the process." She continued to note that the recent changes "put politics before science by letting the White House and federal polluters derail EPA's scientific assessment of toxic chemicals."
But the EPA continues to push back, even as headlines seem to daily point to the ills of not separating this "church and state."
James B. Gulliford, an assistant administrator at the EPA, rejected the notion that the changes would give other federal agencies the power to influence scientific process for political ends. "At the end of the day, it's still EPA's decision," he said at the hearing. "It's a process that ultimately results in a science-based result."
But for countless others the recent turn of events points to the increasingly murky waters of the EPA - one where it is not clear where loyalties start and end, and whose interest they are ultimately protecting. Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, summed up the sentiment of many in this way....
"With these rules in place, it's now official: The Bush White House is where all good public health protections go to die."
Video below is of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), speaking on CSPAN on May 2, 2008, on the Politicization of the EPA and its similarity to the U.S Attorney General Scandal
(Sources: Environmental Working Group, OMB Watch)