Industry’s Untraceable Backchannel Into EPA

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Tuesday. June 11, 2024
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028


Industry’s Untraceable Backchannel Into EPA

Erased Agency-Issued Cell Phones May Mask Improper Ex Parte Contacts


Washington, DC — Industry operatives can enjoy easy direct access to senior managers within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency via text messages and cell phone calls, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yet as EPA’s own Office of Inspector General (IG) recently confirmed, these private communications are not preserved when key EPA managers leave the agency.

EPA scientists have reported to PEER many instances when their conclusions on new chemical risk assessments have been overridden by managers after private consultations with industry.  PEER’s attempts to obtain records of these communications from cell phones of named EPA managers via the Freedom of Information Act have been frustrated by the agency:

  • One former senior official who returned to industry had 1,719 text messages on his phone, more than a hundred for each month of his tenure. However, EPA allowed the official to erase all the messages as he left the agency;
  • EPA admitted the official made 812 phone calls on his EPA device in 15 months, but the agency redacted all of the outside phone numbers on privacy grounds. After PEER appealed the redactions, EPA provided only “the first six digits of each phone number” making identification of outside callers impossible; and
  • Contrary to the Federal Records Act and its own policies, EPA instructs departing employees to “to wipe” their mobile devices (by entering “an incorrect password 10 times”).

“There appears to be a voluminous traffic of communications between the chemical industry and senior EPA managers on matters of public health that are completely shielded from public view,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA.  “By all accounts, EPA has been and still is letting the chemical industry influence the risk assessments for their own products.”

The EPA IG made the same discovery regarding wiped phone records, as recounted in an unusual “Management Implication Report” issued June 4, 2024. When the IG tried to retrieve cell phone traffic from an unnamed official who resigned after being told he/she was under investigation, contrary to multiple IG requests, the agency allowed three devices to be completely erased.

The IG is also investigating the conduct of several senior EPA managers in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, including some who have direct industry ties or have moved back and forth between jobs at EPA and industry. As the latest IG report notes, “We are concerned that this is not an isolated issue.”

“It is abundantly clear that EPA managers are collaborating with industry outside of normal communication channels,” added Bennett, noting numerous scientific integrity violations in the New Chemicals program. “By telling departing managers how to wipe federal records from their phones, EPA is complicit in hiding its industry relations.”


Read the IG report on wiping cell phones

View EPA instructions on how to erase cell phones

See how the chemical industry controls EPA’s hazard assessment process

View EPA redactions from official cell phone log

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