Today, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired a hearing of the Environment and Public Works oversight subcommittee investigating the politicization of science at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The administration witness was Dr. George Gray, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. Gray was appointed to the position by President Bush in 2005. Before then, Gray ran the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, an industry-funded think tank founded by John D. Graham in 1990 that fights environmental regulation. (Graham was the “nation’s regulatory gatekeeper” in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from 2001 to 2006.)
At the hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) described Gray’s misuse of the English language as “Alice in Wonderland,” telling Dr. Gray, “You have tried to defend the indefensible and you have failed.” Sen. Whitehouse described the EPA’s actions as “Orwellian” and concluded the hearing with the sarcastic salute, “I have to applaud Dr. Gray for his ability to say what I found to be preposterous things with a completely straight face throughout.”
Here are excerpts from the Conservative’s Dictionary Of Scientific Language discovered by the Wonk Room to help you translate Gray’s tortured testimony:
conflict of interest, n. Conflict with an industry-friendly position. Usage: “One reviewer’s comments were excluded from the report and were not considered by EPA due to the perception of a potential conflict of interest.” — Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Department of Energy report for the EPA Integrated Risk Information System.
In 2007, Dr. Deborah Rice was the chair of an expert peer review panel charged with setting safe exposure levels for deca-BDE, a toxic fire retardant that contaminates human blood and breast milk. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), acting on behalf of the Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Partnership, wrote to Gray to ask that he personally intervene in the process. ACC alleged that the panel is not an “independent, third-party review” because Dr. Rice is a “fervent advocate of banning deca-BDE.” Rice was removed from the panel and her comments stripped.
deliberative, adj. Secret. Usage: “The discussions we have with the rest of the federal agencies are kept deliberative.” — Dr. Gray, in testimony.
This is a reference to the “deliberative process privilege,” which protects internal and interagency communications from judicially compelled disclosure. The Bush administration has claimed that the deliberative process privilege also prevents agencies from voluntarily disclosing such information, and allows them to defy Congressional subpoenas.
science-policy continuum, n. The blurring of all distinctions between scientific and political decision-making. Usage: “EPA views the relationship between science, science policy, and regulation as a continuum.” — Dr. Gray, in testimony.
The laws that govern the Environmental Protection Agency clearly state that only scientific and health considerations may guide its actions. By refusing to accept the distinctions between different stages of the regulatory process, the Bush administration is attempting to provide a legal justification for OMB interference with any and all EPA science.
sound science, n. 1. Political corruption. 2. Scientific research that does not expose industry to potential regulation or litigation. 3. An excuse for delay in regulating industry. Usage: “I have always believed that one of the primary responsibilities of this committee is to ensure that regulatory decisions are based on sound science.” — Sen. Inhofe
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (now Center) (TASSC) was founded in 1993 by Philip Morris to discredit research demonstrating the dangers of secondhand smoke. The Chronicle for Higher Education described President Bush’s appeal to “sound science” as “a pretext for delaying or junking scientific findings that do not support his policy priorities.”
transparency, n. The pretense that political interference that is kept secret does not exist. Usage: “Transparency is key to the way we do our assessments.” –transparent, adj. Hiding corruption. Usage: “At the end of the process we are very transparent.” –Dr. Gray, in testimony
The EPA decision-making processes involve both secret steps (see “deliberative”) and public steps. At the end of the process all the public steps are disclosed.
uncertainty, n. 1. Scientific conclusions that expose industry to potential regulation or litigation. 2. An excuse for ignoring such science to make an industry-friendly decision. 3. An excuse for delay in regulating industry. Usage: “In so doing, the Administrator sought to balance concern about the potential for health effects and their severity with the increasing uncertainty associated with our understanding of the likelihood of such effects at lower O3 exposure levels.” –EPA Administrator Johnson’s justification for setting an ozone standard of 0.075 ppm, outside the range of 0.060 to 0.070 recommended by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.
Johnson used the word “uncertainty” over 150 times in his ozone standard ruling. However, as Dr. George Thurston testified, “In the face of uncertainty, the Clean Air Act stipulates that the Administrator must choose a more stringent standard, to ensure a margin of safety.” He also explained that the Administrator was confusing “uncertainty in the size of the pollution health effects” with doubt about the existence of any effect. “There is no doubt that there are adverse health effects occuring below 0.075 ppm.”