(Beyond Pesticides, May 2, 2007) A recent study completed by the Center for Public Integrity finds that industry, including pesticide companies, spent over $12 million on trips for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees between October 1997 and March 2006. During that time, EPA officials took more than 10,000 privately sponsored trips totaling more than 40,000 days ”” a total of 110 years ”” away from their offices.
While some of those trips were legitimate fact-finding missions paid for by companies, local governments, nonprofit organizations, universities and international environmental groups, many were funded by those with a financial stake in EPA decision-making, including groups and companies that receive EPA contracts and grants, groups lobbying the federal government and companies with ties to federally recognized toxic waste sites, according to disclosure documents.
Although EPA’s authority is limited to the U.S., more than $6.6 million was spent on trips to other countries. Agency employees took more than $1 million in trips to France, Germany and Italy during the study period. East Asia was also a common destination – more than $1.4 million was spent on trips to China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand.
“While EPA is a domestic agency, it has international responsibilities,” said Jennifer Wood, EPA Press Secretary in a statement to the Center. “We face trans-boundary pollution issues with our neighbors to the north and south, and have a vital presence in global environmental issues.”
Many of the domestic trips were to vacation destinations. Agency employees took more than 700 trips to Florida and Hawaii for various reasons, spending more than $625,000.
EPA officials accepted more than $90,000 in trips to gambling capitals, like Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Reno. The trips allowed them to take part in industry-sponsored workshops, seminars and conventions while staying at hotels such as the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, Aladdin Hotel and the MGM Grand.
The Center also examined EPA’s top contractors. Twelve of those paid more than $25,000 for trips taken by EPA officials. Those companies received more than $2.7 billion from EPA in contracts in fiscal years 1998 to 2005. Hundreds of nonprofits, universities and other organizations that received EPA grants also paid for travel taken by agency officials.
The Center found that some EPA trips were underwritten by companies that the agency has identified as “potentially responsible parties” for pollution at the country’s worst toxic waste sites. The Center obtained EPA’s list of 100 companies linked to the largest number of those Superfund sites and analyzed their spending on EPA travel. At least 14 of the companies found on the list spent a total of more than $40,000 for agency officials’ trips in the study period. The companies have been linked to at least 353 Superfund sites.
In all, groups that lobby the federal government paid for more than 20 percent of all EPA trips. Government watchdog groups say that some of this $1.8 million in travel for agency officials could be seen as an extension of lobbying.
“It sounds like corporations are really trying to buy the favor of EPA administrators rather than fund travel necessary for the agency to fulfill its mission,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
With approximately a third of pesticide sales taking place in the U.S., it is no surprise that the pesticide industry has been very engaged in Washington politics and regulation. According to the Center’s 1998 report, Unreasonable Risk: The Politics of Pesticides, millions of dollars have been spent on pesticide lobbying efforts. Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment poured $15 million in to hire over 200 lobbyists, including former Senators, in 1996 alone. Tens of millions of dollars have historically made their way from industry members to congressional candidates in the form of campaign contributions.
The money trail is only one method of questionable business practices that industry has employed over the years. Scientific integrity and other aspects of ethics have often been a sore spot as well. Recent examples include a 2004 deal where EPA agreed to accept $2.1 million from the American Chemistry Council to help finance a study to investigate the exposure of infants and toddlers to pesticides and chemicals used in the home — a study which would have required parents agree to routinely spray or have pesticides sprayed inside their homes during a two-year period. In 2005, industry requested exemptions to the human testing rule allowing some chemical testing on children and other provisions, which were incorporated and ultimately adopted in January 2006.
The Center obtained EPA travel records through a Freedom of Information Act request. The data has been made available through a searchable database.
Source: Center for Public Integrity