The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has denied a records request from a government watchdog group asking for financial conflict of interest statements from agency science advisers who got $190 million in federal grants.
EPA said Steve Milloy, an attorney with the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI), couldn’t get financial disclosure statements from members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) because “the harm to the individuals … clearly outweighs the public interest in such disclosure.”
EPA also said CASAC members’ financial statements were exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests under the rather ironically named Ethics in Government Act.
Milloy said the agency’s likely withholding the documents to protect itself from embarrassment, likely because none of EPA’s science advisers reported benefiting from government largesse on their conflict of interest forms.
“It’s a remarkable denial since it’s been already determined from publicly available documents that the 24 of the CASAC PM Panel members have received over $190 million in grants,” Milloy wrote on his blog JunkScience.com.
“So is the embarrassing part that none of the CASAC PM Panel members disclosed these grants as financial conflicts of interest? Might those failures be crimes?” Milloy wrote.
EELI sued EPA in May for allegedly stacking a scientific advisory panel with experts who have gotten more than $190 million in agency grants over the years. EELI said this conflict of interest violates federal law requiring such panels to be filled by “independent experts.”
EPA relies on CASAC scientific advisers to validate the science underlying key clean air regulations pushed by the agency, but EELI is asking the court to prevent the agency from convening a CASAC panel tasked with reviewing the science behind agency regulations on fine particulate matter, or PM2.5.
Milloy said the PM2.5 panel is full of researchers, hand-picked by EPA, who will rubber stamp rules regulating PM2.5 — which EPA also relies on for the majority of claimed health benefits for regulations on power plants.
EELI found through FOIA requests, that of the 55 experts nominated to sit on the PM panel, 40 were nominated by EPA. Of the 26 experts actually chosen to sit on the panel, 22 were chosen by EPA. Of the four experts not nominated by EPA, two experts got money from EPA and nominated themselves. One expert that got EPA grants was nominated by another scientist benefitting from agency funding.
Some 24 of the 26 members of the PM panel have gotten or are the current recipients of EPA grants. Panel members have gotten more than $190 million from the agency, according to EELI, which may violate federal laws requiring such scientific advisory panels be “independent.”
Milloy’s not the only one concerned about the integrity of EPA’s science panels. In February, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe sent a letter to EPA asking for information on how the agency goes about choosing advisers.
“I have observed EPA, under the Obama Administration, cherry-picking the same allies to serve on this advisory committee and its subcommittees at the expense of having an open and robust process for selecting external advisers,” Inhofe wrote.
“The majority of CASAC members have also received considerable financial support from EPA, which calls into question their independence and therefore the integrity of the overall panel,” Inhofe wrote.
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