Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increasingly relies upon corporate research joint ventures, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These corporate partnerships are on the rise as EPA research funding is on the wane, magnifying the effects of diversions of resources away from public health priorities toward regulatory topics that serve commercial bottom lines.
Records obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than half of the “cooperative research and development agreements” (or CRADAs) entered into by EPA involve individual corporations or industry associations, such as the American Chemistry Council. In this fiscal year alone, EPA executed more corporate CRADAs (38) than during Clinton’s entire second term (34).
“There is nothing inherently wrong with research partnerships between corporations and government provided there is a clear plan to protect the public interest; otherwise these deals can devolve into hidden corporate subsidies,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the number of corporate CRADAs now dwarfs those entered into with universities or local governments. “These corporate pacts are a shadow research program outside of congressional review or budgetary oversight.”
Examples of EPA-corporate CRADAs include one with—
- American Chemistry Council for “gene chip technology identifying chemicals that might interfere with reproduction and development of wildlife”;
- Eli Lilly and Company for “using laboratory animal visual functioning testing methods developed at EPA to identify visual function side effects reported in human subjects treated with potential drugs under development”; and
- Parker-Hannefin Corporation for “development of an advanced hydrostatic transmission for use on large vehicles.”
“Are these projects the best use for shrinking public research dollars?” asked Ruch, noting that EPA has used these agreements to support human subject experiments to measure pesticide absorption in infants rather than studies of the health effects of pesticide exposure on farm workers and their children. “The danger of this trend is that EPA will become completely dependent on corporate research for its science.”
EPA’s own Science Advisory Board has repeatedly warned that cumulative cuts have eliminated the agency’s ability to field a coherent research program, due to low funding commensurate with public health and environmental needs. At the same time, EPA is planning to shut down many of its own laboratories.
Significantly, EPA has resisted calls from Congress and recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to adopt safeguards against potential conflicts of interest in corporate research agreements. The EPA Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, George Gray, previously ran a university-based “Center for Risk Analysis” financed almost entirely with corporate grants.