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Context of 'February 18, 2004: 62 Prominent Scientists Protest Bush Politicization of Science'

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]

Entity Tags: Russell Train, Bruce Buckheit, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Federal officials confirm that the Bush administration plans to begin using the population statistics of hatchery-bred fish when considering whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new policy rests on five major points: (1) The genetic resources for protecting salmon populations are present in both hatchery-bred and wild fish; (2) Hatchery-bred fish that are “no more than moderately divergent” genetically from wild fish will be included in the same group known as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit, or ESU; (3) Decisions on whether to protect a specific ESU will be based on the entire population; and (4) ESA protection will be based on abundance, productivity, geographic distribution and genetic diversity. [Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Washington Post, 4/29/2004] This proposal ignores warnings from six of the world’s leading experts on salmon ecology who recently argued in the journal Science that hatchery-bred fish are not as fit as those hatched in the wild and should not be relied upon to protect wild salmon populations. [Science Magazine, 3/26/2004, pp. 1980; Washington Post, 4/29/2004] The scientists had been part of a panel formed at the request of the administration to determine whether or not there are significant differences between hatchery-bred and wild fish. When the panel concluded that hatchery fish are larger and genetically inferior to wild fish and that they should not be counted upon to help wild salmon populations, the scientists were told that their conclusions were inappropriate for official government reports. [Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; News Tribune, 5/4/2004] One of the panel’s scientists, biologist Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says of the administration’s response to their work, “Any science that contradicted them was not welcome.” Justifying the panel’s conclusions, he explains, “[Y]ou can’t replace wild salmon with hatchery salmon. It’s like saying Chihuahuas and wolves are the same.” Robert Paine, a biologist at the University of Washington, who also served on the panel, notes: “The current political and legal wrangling is a sideshow to the real issues. The science is clear and unambiguous—as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks.” [Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004] The agricultural, timber and energy industries strongly support the new policy plan, having long complained about the costs of ecosystem-wide modifications that the ESA requires businesses to make to roads, farms and dams to protect the salmon habitats. [Washington Post, 4/29/2004] Salmon protection policies—described as the most expensive and complex of all the endangered species programs—cost roughly $700 million per year. [Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; News Tribune, 5/4/2004] Two weeks later, on May 14, the administration will back away from its proposal. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; Columbian, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the New York Times that the Bush administration has been putting pressure on scientists to produce studies that are in-line with official policy on issues like global warming. He says this practice has penetrated deep within the government bureaucracy. “Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn’t consistent with that,” he says. “I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now.” The Times reports that Hansen, along with two other NASA scientists and several officials at NASA headquarters and at two agency research centers have “described how news releases on new global warming studies had been revised by administrators to play down definitiveness or risks. The scientists and officials said other releases had been delayed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), James E. Hansen

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

Rick S. Piltz, who resigned as a senior associate in the US Climate Change Science Program on March 11, sends a memorandum to dozens of top officials explaining his resignation. In the memo, he says that the politicized editing of scientific reports and other interferences by appointees were undermining the government’s effort to determine the causes and effects of global warming. “Each administration has a policy position on climate change,” he writes. “But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program.” [New York Times, 6/8/2005; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 46 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Rick S. Piltz

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming


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