Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
Yesterday a Senate copycat of a House bill called the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013” was introduced. The Senate bill has yet to be made publicly available, but that didn’t stop the American Chemistry Council (ACC) from sending out its own release strongly supporting the bill, literally within minutes of the issuance of a press release by the bill’s main sponsors.
Assuming (as stated in the release) that the Senate bill is the same as the House bill, H.R. 1422, no wonder ACC loves this bill:
- Tired of having your companies’ scientists and hired consultants excluded from SAB panels because of conflicts of interest? Write a bill that eliminates such a pesky rule, and then say the bill “eliminates conflicts of interest.”
- Frustrated by the time limit placed on comments from the army of industry commenters that typically show up at SAB panel meetings? Bar the setting of any time limit so you can stack the deck, and then say the bill “promotes fairness” and “strengthens public participation.”
- Unhappy with how many independent academic scientists are seated on SAB panels? Require not only that panel members be willing to devote their time to review lengthy EPA documents, but that they respond in writing to every public comment received – a massive expansion in the workload placed on panel members, given the flood of industry comments typically provided – and then say the bill “promotes transparency.”
- Upset with academic scientists on SAB panels that receive government grants not always supporting the industry position? Claim that they are the ones who have conflicts of interest, single them out for disclosure of their grants and contracts – with no mention of industry consultants – and then say the bill “increases disclosures” related to potential conflicts. (An earlier version of the bill would actually have set a 10% quota for government-funded scientists on SAB panels; happily that was removed after an outcry.)
- Want to slow down the pace of EPA risk and hazard assessments? Require that every single such assessment be sent to SAB for review, exponentially expanding the SAB’s workload and adding months or years to the process of finalizing assessments, and then say the bill merely “enables SAB reviews” of such documents.
Despite its grand claims, the EPA SAB Reform Act is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by ACC and its Hill allies to heavily stack the deck in its favor when it comes to independent scientific reviews of EPA work products.
When the House bill was introduced earlier this year, more than a dozen of the country’s premier public health scientists weighed in strongly opposing the bill, as did a group of prominent environmental NGOs. See those letters for more details.
While the bill clearly parrots the talking points of the chemical industry when it comes to peer review of government chemical assessments, it should be noted that the bill would apply to any and all aspects of SAB’s work, not just that on chemicals. So scientists in all fields of endeavor relating to protection of health and the environment ought to be concerned.