More than half of the scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say that politics are interfering with their work, according to a study released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The environmental nonprofit found that 889 of nearly 1,600 staff scientists reported they had experienced political interference in their work over the last five years, while 285 scientists said EPA officials selectively or incompletely used data to justify a specific regulatory outcome and 224 scientists said they had been directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document.
“Our investigation found an agency in crisis,” said Francisca Grifo, director of the nonprofit’s Scientific Integrity Program, in a written statement Wednesday. “Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health and our democracy itself.”
The results suggest that the science behind the government regulation that influences the greentech industry has been molded by politics, rather than the other way around. According to the Union, political interference is most pronounced in offices where scientists write regulations or conduct risk assessments related to regulations.
EPA officials didn’t immediately return calls asking for a response to the study.
The nonprofit has previously come to similar conclusions in its surveys of scientists in other government agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, as well as among climate scientists at seven federal agencies. “The problem of political interference is not unique to the EPA,” the Union said.
Last year, a survey of 279 U.S. government climate scientists suggested that Bush administration officials censored scientific papers to soften language about global warming (see Report Predicts Global Disaster).
Dan Adler, president of the California Clean Energy Fund, which Wednesday launched a new public policy arm called the Center for Innovation and Sustainability, said the issue is a serious one that has been a “hallmark” of the Bush administration.
“What we’ve seen is excessive intervention in the core science … and it’s basically delayed, for the better part of the decade, important scientific work that, if it had signaled policy, could have transformed markets,” he said. “In these complicated industries, the science needs to be the guide, and if we wind up in situations where the science indicates we have to make [economically challenging] choices, those need to be addressed and dealt with directly rather than subverting the underlying science so as to avoid the hard choices.”
The energy fund’s new center hopes to do just that – address the threats that scientists have identified by helping to develop technology-enabling regulations, Adler said.
“We’re taking the signals from the scientific community that this is a challenge and one we can’t address overnight, and [figuring out] what are the policy mechanisms we need to put in place now to help support the industry for decades to come,” he said. “There’s a voice from the financial community to policy, and from policy speaking to finance, that is missing out there.”
Adler said the new center hopes to help make policies more precisely targeted in the market signals it sends, rather than only using “blunt instruments” such as renewable portfolio standards.
For example, the center hopes to work on policies that help grow a transmission system to enable renewables to connect to the grid and to build more distribution for biofuels, as well as to help bridge the “valley of death” between venture capital and project financing so that companies can build more demonstration projects.
Earlier this month, the Clean Energy Fund launched an angel fund to help fill a perceived gap in early-stage funding, as well (see Filling Greentech’s ‘Early-Stage Gap’ and Q&A: California’s New Angel).