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E.P.A. Official Pressured Scientist on Congressional Testimony, Emails Show

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Coral Davenport reports in the NY Times:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s chief of staff pressured the top scientist on the agency’s scientific review board to alter her congressional testimony and play down the dismissal of expert advisers, his emails show.

Deborah Swackhamer, an environmental chemist who leads the E.P.A.’s Board of Scientific Counselors, was to testify on May 23 before the House Science Committee on the role of states in environmental policy when Ryan Jackson, the E.P.A.’s chief of staff, asked her to stick to the agency’s “talking points” on the dismissals of several members of the scientific board.

“I was stunned that he was pushing me to ‘correct’ something in my testimony,” said Dr. Swackhamer, a retired University of Minnesota professor. “I was factual, and he was not. I felt bullied.”

Dr. Swackhamer’s testimony came two weeks after the dismissals, which were met with fierce pushback from a scientific community that saw it as evidence that the Trump administration is seeking to weaken the role of academic science in environmental policy.

That criticism has sharpened in recent weeks, after the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the energy secretary, Rick Perry, openly questioned the established science of human-caused climate change, and as the E.P.A. has taken down websites about climate change. Scientists have also expressed concern that Mr. Pruitt has staffed his senior offices with several former senior staff members of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent denier of human-caused climate change. Mr. Jackson also came from Mr. Inhofe’s staff.

Among other requests in his May 22 emails, Mr. Jackson asked Dr. Swackhamer to note that “a decision had not yet been made” about whether to dismiss her colleagues on the agency’s scientific review board. However, at that time, several scientists on the board had already received notices that their terms would not be renewed. Since that testimony, the E.P.A. has sent out dozens more notices to academic scientists that their terms on the board will not be renewed.

“The Board of Scientific Counselors had 68 members two months ago. It will have 11 come Sept. 1,” Dr. Swackhamer said. “They’ve essentially suspended scientific activities by ending these terms. We have no meetings scheduled, no bodies to do the work.”

James Thurber, the founder and former director of the Center for Congressional Studies at American University, said he had never heard of an administration pressuring a witness, particularly a scientist, to alter testimony already submitted for the official record.

“It’s shocking and insulting to be told before you go in to alter your testimony to what the administration wants,” he said. “This just shows a certain amount of amateurishness about how these hearings work. They’re supposed to be places where you get objective views. You don’t go around telling people what to say.”

Mr. Jackson and the E.P.A. communications office did not respond to emailed questions about Mr. Jackson’s communications with Dr. Swackhamer.

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the committee, dismissed the accusations.

“It’s disappointing that the minority is politicizing what seems to be nothing more than a federal agency making sure that information provided to Congress is accurate,” he said in a statement. “Dr. Swackhamer and the Minority have repeatedly stated that she was testifying in her personal capacity and not in connection with her role as chair of the E.P.A. Board of Scientific Counselors. However, it is clear that the Minority invited her in an attempt to hijack the stated purpose of the Committee’s hearing on states’ role in E.P.A. rulemaking and shift the focus to recent E.P.A. actions involving the” Board of Scientific Counselors.

“Any attempt by E.P.A. to ensure that what Congress heard in testimony about official E.P.A. matters included the full breadth of information seems entirely appropriate,” Mr. Smith continued. “Unfortunately, the Minority has made the choice to waste taxpayer dollars as part of a politically motivated agenda.”

Dr. Swackhamer said she had already submitted her testimony to the congressional committee by the time she received Mr. Jackson’s email. She had also told the Science Committee and the E.P.A. that she planned to speak in her role as an independent scientist rather than an E.P.A. employee, and that she would make this plain at the outset of her testimony. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2017 at 6:22 pm

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