Systemic Risk (executive privilege v scientists edition)

The White House is an amazing source of scientific thought; not only can the president and his cronies interfere with the science about Global Warming, but the process that the EPA uses to determine whether or not a chemical is toxic or poses a risk of causing cancer is also part of the White House’s purview.

It’s an amazing case of regulatory capture, hopefully temporary:

White House Undermines EPA on Cancer Risks, GAO Says

By H. Josef Hebert

The Associated Press

Monday 28 April 2008

Washington – The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger – often secret – role, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The administration’s decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program’s credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded.

At issue is the EPA’s screening of chemicals used in everything from household products to rocket fuel to determine if they pose serious risk of cancer or other illnesses.

A new review process begun by the White House in 2004 is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report, which will be the subject of a Senate Environment Committee hearing Tuesday. A formal policy effectively doubling the number of steps was adopted two weeks ago.

Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay. The EPA, for example, had promised to prepare assessments on 10 major toxic chemicals for external peer review by the end of 2007, but only two reached that stage.

GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals.

The Pentagon, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies – all of which could be severely affected by EPA risk findings – are being allowed to participate “at almost every step in the assessment process,” said the GAO.

Those agencies, their private contractors and manufacturers of the chemicals face restrictions and major cleanup requirements, depending on the EPA’s scientific determinations.

“By law the EPA must protect our families from dangerous chemicals,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate committee’s chairman. “Instead, they’re protecting the chemical companies.”

The EPA’s risk assessment process “never was perfect,” Boxer said in an interview Monday. “But at least it put the scientists up front. Now the scientists are being shunted aside.”

The GAO said many of the deliberations over risks posed by specific chemicals “occur in what amounts to a black box” of secrecy because the White House claims they are private executive branch deliberations.

Systemic Risk (executive privilege v scientists edition)

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