By Jennifer Sass, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Pruitt-Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sweeping out the old and inviting in the new, with a fresh slew of Science Advisory Board (SAB) members. As per normal, EPA initially invited public suggestions for nominees and then issued a long list of nominees (132 individuals) for public comment, before making its final selection of the approximately 50 final members.
The list of nominees includes climate-deniers and many people with financial ties to the regulated chemical industry and that would directly and significantly benefit from lax or failed environmental safeguards.
We recognize that industry experts often have information of value to the deliberations of the SAB and the policies of EPA, including for example, technical, scientific, and market data. If industry representatives have relevant contributions to the SAB then invitations to address the committee during public meetings are appropriate.
In our comments to EPA, we emphasized that the SAB would benefit greatly from members with first-hand knowledge and experience in the way that workplaces and communities experience the issues, policies, and subjects that are the deliberations of the SAB. These include for example workers, union health and safety representatives, industrial hygienists, nurses, community health experts, and social scientists. It also includes tribal representatives, environmental justice representatives, and spokespersons for susceptible populations. Such experts bring a field expertise that is tremendously valuable to ground-truth EPA policies and practices.
There are some great candidates on EPA’s list—solid scientists that believe in an EPA where the “E” and “P” really matter. EPA doesn’t have to select an industry-biased financially conflicted Science Advisory Board—and it shouldn’t if it plans to follow its own ethics guidelines! We will be watching.
Some of the representatives of the chemical industries include:
Richard Belzer – Frequent consultant and collaborator with the regulated chemical industry. Although his bio says that he is a “regular contributor to scholarly professions through journal peer review and service to professional societies” he seems to have very few actual publications. A search on PubMed, the NIH library of over 10 thousand scientific and medical journals, turned up only three publications with his name in the last fifteen years.
James Bus – Frequent consultant and collaborator with the regulated chemical industry. Employed by Exponent, Inc, whose clients include many regulated chemical manufacturers and users. Exponent has a portion of its practice dedicated to “Chemical Regulation and Food Safety” where it promises its clients, “high-quality, creative, and practical solutions to problems that affect our clients’ ability to conduct business globally”, including access to its staff of “technical and regulatory consultants”. The Exponent website says, “We assist chemical manufacturers, pesticide registrants, grower/commodity groups, and trade associations in dealing with issues that affect their ability to do business effectively…We specialize in resolving difficult pesticide and non-pesticide issues involving the U.S. EPA…”. All these client services are directly financial impacted by EPA actions and SAB deliberations. That is, weakening or avoiding EPA regulations would directly financially benefit Exponent’s clients; placing Exponent staff on the SAB provides a means for Exponent to deliver on these promises to their industrial clients.
John Graham – Founding director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis which was partially supported by tobacco, chemical, pharma and other industries. According to a website that is no longer publicly available, the Center receives unrestricted grants from 3M, American Chemistry Council, BP America, BASF, Chevron Texaco, Dow Chemical Co, DuPont Agriculture Products, DuPont de Nemours, Electric Power Research Institute, Eastman Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Corporation, FMC Corporation, General Motors, Kraft Foods, Monsanto. Subsequently, as a political appointee under President GW Bush Graham defended the controversial “senior discount” in risk assessment, which essentially devalues the benefits of clean air and safe drinking water for older Americans, weakening environmental safeguards. Recently he defended fracking, writing that, “objective risk assessments suggest that risks are low and controllable through best risk management practices” in a paper funded by his own industry-funded Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.
Michael Honeycutt – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) under Honeycutt has downgraded the toxicity of about two-thirds of the 45 chemicals it has evaluated through its risk assessment program since 2007, resulting in weakened environmental safeguards, according to a 2014 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. In a 2015 report co-authored by Honeycutt titled, “Lowering the Ozone Standard Will Not Measurably Improve Public health,” the authors write, “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality argues that the thoughtful integration of scientific data does not support the assumption that tightening the ozone standard will result in measurable health benefits.” Honeycutt has repeatedly made public statements and testified in Congress to dispute the harmfulness of smog (ground-level ozone) and soot (PM2.5) air pollution. His outlier views on these subjects have been rejected repeatedly and emphatically by EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, the Scientific Advisory Board and a vast body of medical science.
Jeffrey Lewis – Employed by Exxon Mobil, one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the country, which has a direct financial interest in EPA policies and SAB deliberations. ExxonMobil has had over 160 environmental violations since 2000, resulting in penalties totaling $670 million dollars. In addition to a long rap sheet of environmental regulatory and criminal violations, in 2015 Exxon was shown to have intentionally misled investors and the public about the financial risks of climate change, while funding climate-deniers and fighting climate-related legislation despite evidence in their own corporate documents acknowledging the real dangers of climate change.
Kimberly White – Employed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the trade organization for the chemical manufacturing companies including ExxonMobil. The ACC and its member companies have a direct and very substantial financial interest weakening or destroying EPA policies and regulations that would safeguard human health and the environment from toxic industrial products and pollution. For example, EPA enforcement actions in 2014 targeted Shell and DuPont – both ACC members – for dangerous air toxics released during industrial flaring at their refineries and chemical plants; this was noted to be particularly harmful to the health of minority and low-income communities living nearby. ACC member company Arkema Inc recently made national news after it had explosions and toxic chemical spills associated with the flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, initiating an investigation by the Chemical Safety Board. Weakening EPA rules and regulations would bring an immediate and substantial financial benefit to these chemical companies and other ACC members.
In addition to the above chemical industry employees and consultants, a dozen of the candidates are climate science deniers.
As reported in E&E, by News Reporter Scott Waldman (Sept 14, 2017), the following anti-science climate-deniers are also on EPA list of nominees being considered:
Joseph D’Aleo runs climate skeptic websites and has appeared as a speaker at Heartland conferences. D’Aleo said his priority on the board would be attacking the endangerment finding, the legally binding document that holds that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases harm human health and must be regulated by the executive branch. He said he wants to challenge the finding because it could otherwise be used later to build back Obama-era environmental regulations. “We’re going to push for reconsideration, start from scratch and put together the best science,” he said. “If CO2 is not a serious pollutant, let’s focus the attention of the EPA on other issues.”
Edwin Berry funded his own climate research and says human carbon dioxide emissions do not cause climate change. He has compared those who believe in human-caused climate change to “Aztecs who believed they could make rain by cutting out beating hearts and rolling decapitated heads down temple steps.” On his Twitter account, he has called Islam “a death cult” and has encouraged motorists to drive into protesters. Berry, in an email to E&E News, described his tweet as a joke and said he does not advocate violence…. Berry, who confirmed that he and a number of other skeptics were nominated by Heartland, said he wants to use his position on the board to show that humans barely contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which he claimed are mostly driven by natural factors. “Let’s get over this whole thing about climate change being an important thing, because in fact we humans have a negligible impact on climate,” he said.
Alan Carlin, a retired EPA employee who is affiliated with Heartland fought the agency’s crafting of the endangerment finding. Carlin, an economist, was at the center of a political firestorm under Obama after he produced a widely criticized 93-page report comprising cherry-picked scientific data and blog entries concluding that regulating carbon dioxide was “the worst mistake that EPA has ever made.”
Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician at the conservative Heritage Foundation: His report was cited by Trump as a reason to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. It claimed that the agreement could shrink U.S. gross domestic product by $2.5 trillion within two decades (though Trump stated the impact as coming within a decade). The report was criticized by some as being misleading, because that amount is less than 1 percent of the aggregate GDP over that period and the report did not account for the cost of taking no climate change action. Dayaratna was invited to attend Trump’s withdrawal announcement in June in the White House Rose Garden.
Paul Driessen, a senior policy adviser at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a libertarian environmental think tank: His organization handed out leaflets at a climate protest this year in Washington, D.C., that said, “CO2 is not the ‘control knob’ of the climate.” He also co-founded Climate Exit, or “Clexit,” which criticized the science behind the Paris climate agreement and holds that spiking levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide benefit the Earth. “The world must abandon this suicidal Global Warming crusade,” the group stated in its founding statement. “Man does not and cannot control the climate.”
Gordon Fulks, a physicist and adviser to the Cascade Policy Institute, an Oregon-based libertarian think tank: He has denied that net sea ice melt is occurring and that the Earth is warming. He has said those who express concern about climate change are like a “societal pathogen that virulently spreads misinformation in tiny packages like a virus.”
David Legates, a professor of climatology at the University of Delaware: He has denied that human-caused climate change could have catastrophic consequences and has co-authored climate research claiming polar bears are not harmed by human-caused climate change that was quietly funded, at least in part, by Koch Industries Inc.”
See our full comments to EPA for details and references.