Washington, DC — The ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct timely, cutting- edge research is threatened by diversion of money from a shrinking budget and by failure to defend its science from political manipulation, according to congressional testimony delivered today. After seven straight years of declining research budgets, President Bush has again proposed further cuts, aggravated by raids on the remaining research dollars to finance homeland security and public relations programs.
In addition to money woes, EPA’s research program is plagued by suppression of findings for non-scientific reasons and lack of protection for its scientists, according to testimony presented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch before the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards. The hearing examined the proposed EPA Science and Technology budget for fiscal year 2007.
“There appears to be a deliberate policy of marginalizing EPA science on issue after issue, so that the agency is becoming increasingly irrelevant to emerging environmental threats,” Ruch testified, pointing to internal surveys showing a growing pessimism by agency scientists about the direction of EPA. “EPA’s public health research agenda has been neutered.”
Among the examples PEER raised before the Subcommittee are that EPA —
- Has kept its risk assessment for dioxin, a deadly yet widespread agent, in draft form for more than 12 years. The final assessment has still not been released;
- Diluted its recommended perchlorate safety standards so that states have been forced to step in and set their own standards. Perchlorate is a defense munitions compound that has been found in drinking water supplies in more than 20 states and is considered by many the leading Clean Water Act threat of the 21st century; and
- Is giving corporate contributors direct influence over which research projects are undertaken by entering into a record number of joint ventures.
EPA currently spends $557 million directly on environmental and health research and another $173 million on environmental technologies. While the Bush administration is proposing a slight increase in the overall combined budget for science and technology —
- The scientific research budget represents a 16% decline over the past three years when adjusted for inflation. Some areas, such as ecological research, would drop by more than one-fourth;
- New security programs for water supplies are being funded wholly out of research funds, as are questionable new public relations and information technology programs; and
- EPA contends it cannot afford its $2.5 million network of libraries, which it seeks to slash by 80%.
“The one group not being asked to testify about agency science is the EPA scientists themselves,” Ruch added. “Unfortunately, EPA has forbidden its own specialists from speaking without political clearance.”