Politics & Policy

Meltdown at the EPA

Scott Pruitt testifies at his confirmation hearing for EPA administrator, January 18, 2017. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
And not the nuclear kind: The agency’s junk-science promoters are flipping out.

In his recently released and timely book, Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA, author Steve Milloy says this about the Environmental Protection Agency:

The EPA has over the course of the last 20 years marshaled its vast and virtually unchallenged power into an echo chamber of deceptive science, runaway regulations and fatally flawed research derived from unethical human experiments. The EPA’s conduct runs the gamut from subtle statistical shenanigans to withholding key scientific data, from seeking to rubberstamp baseless research data to illegally spraying diesel exhaust up the noses of unsuspecting children and other vulnerable populations.

Milloy, who runs the website JunkScience.com, has chronicled the scientific and bureaucratic abuse at the EPA for two decades, and he is thrilled by President Trump’s plans to finally reform the EPA. “I can think of no agency that has done more pointless harm to the U.S. economy than the EPA — all based on junk science, if not out-and-out science fraud,” Milloy told me. “I am looking forward to President Trump’s dramatically shrinking the EPA by entirely overhauling how the remaining federal EPA uses science.”

It looks like the EPA will be the agency hardest hit by the Trump sledgehammer. For eight years, President Obama used the agency as his de facto enforcer of environmental policies he couldn’t pass in Congress even when it was controlled by his own party. If Obama was the climate-change bully, then the EPA was his toady, issuing one regulation after another aimed at imaginary polluters who were allegedly causing global warming. Jobs were lost, companies were bankrupted, and an untold amount of economic growth was stymied out of fear of reprisals from this rogue agency. The courts halted many of the EPAs most overreaching and unlawful policies initiated by Obama — such as the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Rule, two regulations aimed at farmers and coal producers. Unsurprisingly, people in these sectors voted heavily for Trump.

Trump officials and Congress are ready to make major changes in the EPA. A leaked memo written by Trump’s EPA transition team details how the new administration wants to tackle shoddy science at the agency. The memo asserts that the EPA should not be funding scientific research, and it must make any data publicly available for independent scientists to review. It also said that the agency must eliminate conflicts of interest and bias from the science advisory process.

The administration also put a freeze on most contracts and grants, pending further review by incoming staff. A good chunk of the EPA’s $8.3 billion budget is spent on grants to universities and units of government; its 2017 budget for state- and tribal-assistant grants was nearly $3.3 billion. The agency also has nearly $6.4 billion in outstanding contractual obligations to dozens of companies across the country, dating back to 2001. These will get much-needed scrutiny over the next several months, and Milloy insists it’s a necessary step:

The EPA uses tax dollars to fund its friends and allies, who tend to be political activists and “political” scientists. There has been no effective oversight of the EPA because Republicans have lacked the numbers and often the will to challenge the all-powerful EPA.

Now you’d think scientists would welcome a hard look at a politicized government agency accused of promoting dubious science, right? But instead, the scientific community has lost its collective mind, again. (It’s hard to tell who’s more easily triggered these days, the media, college students, or scientists.) The Union of Concerned Scientists called the Trump administration’s move “an attack on scientific integrity,” and the group’s president sent a letter to U.S. senators claiming that “freezing grants and contracts would almost certainly increase health risks for children and other vulnerable people in our country.” The group has also set up a hotline so federal scientists can anonymously tattle on their new bosses.

You’d think scientists would welcome a hard look at a politicized government agency accused of promoting dubious science, right?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who opposes Scott Pruitt as Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, and who wants to prosecute climate-change “deniers,” said he will use all the powers of his office to stop “a disturbing opening act by an administration that seems determined to dismantle essential federal environmental protections, regardless of the impact on the health and safety of ordinary Americans.”

Scientists feel so threatened by the Trump administration that some are planning a protest this spring modeled after the Women’s March on January 21. (Can’t wait to see their hats!) Organizers insist that the event will be nonpartisan and will promote its core principle, namely:

There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action.  The diversity of life arose by evolution. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.

And in the ultimate dramatic move, just a few days into Trump’s presidency, the keepers of the hokey Doomsday Clock moved it 30 seconds closer to midnight. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ executive director, Rachel Bronson, explained why the group made the unprecedented move:

This year’s Clock deliberations felt more urgent than usual . . . as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used by a president-elect of the United States in cavalier and often reckless ways to address the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.

These are scientists, keep in mind.

Milloy isn’t surprised by the scientific community’s apoplexy; his book details how the EPA funded nearly $600 million in bogus research to buttress the agency’s regulatory overreach:

It’s all about the money. EPA pays university scientists massive amounts of money to support its agenda and their institutions are more than happy to oblige by doing what the EPA wants regardless of merit.

Looks like the EPA may need its own doomsday clock, because its time of promoting dubious science to back up a political agenda is running out.

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