Inspector general to review whether politics influences EPA’s science

The Environmental Protection Agency inspector general’s office announced Friday that it will review the “extent and type of employee concerns, if any, with scientific integrity.”

The review is part of an audit intended “to determine whether the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy is being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity throughout the EPA,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a memo.

The review is significant because of the Trump administration’s focus on how the EPA and other federal government offices conduct and use science.

The EPA declined to comment on the review, referring questions to the inspector general.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed controversial new guidelines in April that would allow the agency to consider outside studies only if the underlying data is made public.

Supporters say the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science proposal would live up to its name, but critics warn that it would limit access to health studies, important when regulating air and water issues.

Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, said he plans to implement that policy.

“I really fundamentally believe the more information we put out to the public, as far as what we’re basing our regulations on, the better our regulations will be,” he said in a July interview with the trade publication E&E News. “Yes, I want to move forward with that.”

Under Pruitt, the agency also cut members of an influential advisory board and said members of all its advisory boards must not be recipients of federal grants for scientific research.

Wheeler said in the E&E interview that the policy was intended to ensure “that you don’t have somebody on the advisory board recommending that the EPA go down a path where they’re already doing their research and getting money from the EPA.”

“I want to make sure I don’t have any conflicts of interest, and I think the people who serve on our science boards shouldn’t have a conflict of interest,” he added.

EPA scientists also noted concerns with scientific integrity in a survey conducted earlier this year by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Eight in 10 said they agreed or strongly agreed that political influence hinders their work.