Remember back in May, when public health advocates sounded the alarm about the fact that EPA’s short list of nominees for its Science Advisory Board asbestos panel included scientists associated with product defense firms? As David Michaels explained, these firms are hired by corporations and trade associations to minimize government regulation, and scientists associated with them have a fundamental conflict of interest that should preclude their participation in EPA’s science advisory panels.
Now a similar problem is arising with another SAB panel: the particulate matter review panel of SAB’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which will “review EPA’s technical and policy assessments that form the basis for updating the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter.” The EPA has released the short list of nominees, and Merrill Goozner at GoozNews explains what’s wrong with it:
[T]he EPA’s short list for the particulate matter panel contained 55 experts, most with sterling biographies outlining long lists of published studies for various government agencies and non-profit institutes. Take Robert Phalen, the University of California at Irvine Professor of Community and Environmental Medicine, for instance. He’s conducted research in the field for over 30 years, we’re assured. He’s received grants from various government agencies and foundations.
What we’re not told is that he has also written a book questioning the link between particulate air pollution and adverse health effects and arguing that tighter air pollution standards are premature. His short bio also ignores the fact, disclosed in that book, that he received research funding from the Southern California Edison Company and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the utility industry.
Another example: the short biographical sketch about Peter Valberg mentions that he is an employee of Gradient Corporation, a private consulting firm. But it doesn’t disclose that his clients include Carbon Black Manufacturers and an undisclosed mining company, and that he has penned critiques of EPA findings on health risks of air pollution for the Engine Manufacturers Association.
These are flagrant conflicts of interests that, by law, should exclude them from participating on this advisory panel.
He emphasizes that the problem isn’t just who the nominees are, but how information about them is presented:
The EPA has a fairly open process for setting up its advisory committees. It first invites the public to submit nominations. It then publishes a “short list” of candidates and invites public comment on their credentials. And, finally, it publishes its final roster before it gets down to work.
Sounds fair, right? But what good is a transparent process if the information the EPA discloses to the public about the nominees falls short of full disclosure? How can the public, which includes the interested community of fellow scientists, environmental activists and affected industries, comment intelligently on a list of candidates that does not include key elements of their biographies?
[W]ithout publishing the full bios of its proposed candidates, the EPA has denied the public what it needs to make informed comment. In this case, partial disclosure is worse than no disclosure at all.
EPA is accepting comments on its short list until July 20th.