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The Sciences

The Latest Political Science Issue: Clean Air

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFebruary 8, 2006 12:26 AM

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I don't know a great deal about particulate pollution. But I am nevertheless not at all surprised that we're now having a political science fight over this subject. After all: 1) it's an environmental issue; 2) it's one where lots of industry dollars hinge upon what regulatory framework the EPA adopts; and 3) that regulatory framework in turn depends in part upon scientific information, much of which is, typically, rife with uncertainty. Add into that mix 4) the Bush administration, and it's pretty easy to predict what you're going to get.

Anyway, the details on the latest battle can be found here, as reported by the LA Times. It seems that EPA administrator Stephen Johnson is disregarding his advisory committee on how to regulate particulates--and not just that. The committee itself accuses Johnson of having "twisted" and "misrepresented" its position. So the allegation goes beyond merely ignoring science; it also involves distortion. And the alleged culprit is the Office of Management and Budget:

Cal/EPA's air pollution epidemiology chief, Bart Ostro, charged during the teleconference that the EPA had incorporated "last-minute opinions and edits" by the White House Office of Management and Budget that "circumvented the entire peer review process."

He said research that he and others had conducted also had been misrepresented in the EPA's lengthy justification for the proposed new standards.

In an interview later, Ostro said he was referring to marked-up drafts of Johnson's proposals that showed changes by the White House budget office and language that was "very close to some of the letters written by some of the trade associations."

He said the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee's seven-year review of data on health risks of particulate matter had been replaced with inaccurate conclusions about the science that could lead to "thousands more deaths," especially from fine particulates that lodge deep in the lungs. I want to stress, I do not know independently of the validity of these accusations. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that they're fully consistent with a broader pattern that we've seen throughout the course of the Bush administration.

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