Leaked EPA Document Does Not Absolve EPA Administrator of Spreading Falsehoods

Statement by Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Aug 2, 2017

WASHINGTON (August 2, 2017)—In March, the Sierra Club submitted a complaint under the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific integrity policy over Administrator Scott Pruitt’s comments on CNBC about the causes of climate change. Yesterday, a leaked draft of a response from the agency Scientific Integrity Committee was published online.

Below is a statement by Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We need to look beyond scientific integrity policies for ways to keep public officials honest. The committee’s decision demonstrates the need for other mechanisms to hold public officials accountable for misrepresenting science. Part of the blame lies with those members of the Senate who failed by voting to confirm an EPA administrator with a known track record of misrepresenting science. Moving forward, strong congressional oversight over an administrator who has little interest in independent scientific advice will be essential. 

“Scientific integrity policies, implemented by civil servants, are intended to protect science from censorship and manipulation during the decision-making process. We need to be able to trust that agencies are making decisions based on the best available information. Public health and environmental laws only work when independent science is part of the equation, and we need to preserve that.

“While the scientific integrity policy does not apply to Administrator Pruitt’s public comments about scientific issues, basic principles of honesty should. The scientific integrity committee’s decision doesn’t absolve Administrator Pruitt of his responsibility to listen to what his agency’s own scientists are saying and to tell the public the truth. Further, this decision does not signal that Administrator Pruitt is engaged in a sincere debate over the substance of climate science, nor does it suggest that the administrator’s opinion on the science should carry the same weight as those with significant scientific expertise on global warming.

“We need to make sure scientific integrity standards are clear and reliable—and that means Congress should step up. The Scientific Integrity Act, already introduced in both the House and the Senate, would hold agencies to high scientific integrity standards no matter who holds the White House or leads an agency. Civil servants need to know that they’ll be able to follow the evidence where it leads, and that anyone who interferes in that process will be held responsible.

“Finally, it’s ridiculous that a draft of the letter was publicly leaked before the group that filed the complaint ever received a response. It’s even worse that the EPA press office blasted out an article based on a leaked document that may not even be final. That’s not how this process is supposed to work.”