(Beyond Pesticides, February 6, 2009) President Obama’s new administration has introduced changes across the federal government, and those at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been on display with the confirmation of new Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. In her recent testimony at her Senate confirmation hearing and open letter to EPA employees, Ms. Jackson pledges a return to scientific integrity and agency transparency.
“Science must be the backbone for EPA programs,” she says in a memo to EPA staff. “The public health and environmental laws that Congress has enacted depend on rigorous adherence to the best available science. The President believes that when EPA addresses scientific issues, it should rely on the expert judgment of the Agencyâ€™s career scientists and independent advisors. When scientific judgments are suppressed, misrepresented or distorted by political agendas, Americans can lose faith in their government to provide strong public health and environmental protection.”
This promise contrasts the previous administration’s strained relationship with EPA scientists, which resulted in last spring’s report entitled, “Interference at EPA: Science and Policies at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientistsâ€™s Scientific Integrity Program, said at the time, â€śNearly 900 EPA scientists reported political interference in their scientific work. Thatâ€™s 900 too many. Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health, and our democracy itself.â€ť Reports of conflicts of interest within EPA’s Science Advisory Panels surfaced around the same time, and the Agency has acted against the urging of scientists and physicians in critical public health matters.
Transparency at EPA has also been criticized, most recently by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its High Risk Series update last month. Ms. Jackson’s letter promises, “Public trust in the Agency demands that we reach out to all stakeholders fairly and impartially, that we consider the views and data presented carefully and objectively, and that we fully disclose the information that forms the bases for our decisions. I pledge that we will carry out the work of the Agency in public view so that the door is open to all interested parties and that there is no doubt why we are acting and how we arrived at our decisions.”
Environmental groups, which have been frustrated by years of unresponsive regulators, hope that Ms. Jackson’s EPA will use this promise of scientific integrity and transparency to increase protections for human health and environment that have been ignored, removed, or spent years in the system waiting for action. Beyond Pesticides has a clear vision of immediate EPA priorities, enumerated in Transforming Governmentâ€™s Approach to Regulating Pesticides to Protect Public Health and the Environment, which can be viewed and signed on to here.