EPA Scientists Complain of Being Gagged, Political Pressure To Alter Science

May 7, 2008

Environmental Protection Agency scientists by the hundreds are complaining that they are being pressured by political appointees who run EPA to alter their scientific findings to support the administration's deregulatory agenda, according to a survey by an advocacy group.

The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists comes at a time when many journalists within SEJ are complaining that political appointees in EPA's press office are cutting off their access to agency scientists and intimidating scientists from speaking freely.

"The Union of Concerned Scientists said April 23 that more than half of the nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work," the Associated Press reported April 26, 2008.

The AP reported: "EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar attributed some of the discontent to the 'passion' scientists have toward their work. He said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, as a longtime career scientist at the EPA himself, 'weighs heavily the science given to him by the staff in making policy decisions.'"

EPA scientists have consistently told reporters who are members of SEJ that they are not allowed to talk to news media without prior press-office approval. Such approval is often denied, and when it is granted, press officers have often insisted on being present during a reporter's interview with a scientist, either on the telephone or in person. In other cases, press officers have denied reporters access to scientists, and allowed them to talk only to political appointees. The political appointees are often uninformed, and have sometimes ended up having scientists whisper answers to reporters' questions before they respond.

Some of the same political appointees have maintained that they limit reporters' access to scientists because they want scientists to talk only about research they are directly involved in. The political appointees are rarely involved in any research.

Several SEJ member-journalists have told the WatchDog that EPA press officers often deny them access to the EPA scientists who know the most about the subject they are writing about. Others tell of being upbraided by EPA press officers for contacting scientists or agency personnel directly, without asking permission from the press office.

There is no federal law requiring such procedures. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson has acknowledged that such a policy exists, but press officers say there is no written policy.

UCS Senior Scientist Francesca Grifo testified on the report May 7, 2008, before a subcommittee of the Senate Environment Committee.

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