Trump Ban on EPA-Funded Scientists Serving on Agency Advisory Boards Endangers Public Health
Interview with Gretchen Goldman, research director with The Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, conducted by Scott Harris
In another in a long list of controversial edicts issued by the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, new rules were announced on Oct. 31, which bars scientists and others who receive EPA grant funding from serving on the agency’s science advisory boards. The action will purge a large number of scientists who are well-known authorities in the fields of ecology, human biology, toxicology and epidemiology. Pruitt was quoted as saying the new policy was designed to prevent a conflict of interest.
However, the EPA administrator, who is widely expected to appoint representatives of industries that the EPA regulates to sit on science advisory panels, has not issued any new policies to prevent commonplace conflicts of interests related to regulatory law which often cut into corporate profits.
Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and scientific organizations have condemned Pruitt’s purge, asserting that the ban prevents the nation’s top scientific experts from advising the EPA, while strengthening the influence of industry representatives with clear ethical challenges. Lawsuits are likely. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Gretchen Goldman, research director with The Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Here, she explains why her group believes Scott Pruitt’s directive undermines independent science and puts Americans at risk.
GRETCHEN GOLDMAN: Advisory committees are bodies of external scientists – scientists from outside the government. A lot of them come from academia and other places where they’re doing scientific work and they volunteer that expertise and their time to help inform the U.S. government on a variety of issues. And this happens across federal agencies; at the EPA, sciences advisers provide advice on everything from air pollution, to water quality to chemical safety hazards. And so these advisory committees play very crucial roles in getting external science advice to the agency and it gives them that extra power and it allows the public to see if the agency is making science-based decisions because we have this independent body that can, you know, help call them on anything that isn’t scientific and really hold them to account.
And so these advisory committees really operate separately and that’s worked very, very, well for many years. And what we’re seeing is that (EPA) Administrator (Scott) Pruitt is starting to try to dismantle that process. And so, by banning scientists that receive grants from the EPA to do scientific research and further science in a particular field is really excluding scientists that your the best experts from being able to advise the agency. It’s very, very strange. The best analogy that I come up with is it’s like saying a teacher who last year received a teaching award doesn’t get to serve on the PTA. I don’t know why you would not want to give your best minds a seat at the table, but that’s exactly what Administrator Pruitt is doing.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Could you be able to address for our audience the claim that’s out there somewhere among the Trump appointees at the EPA, including Scott Pruitt that there’s the specter of conflict of interest for these scientists who receive EPA grants to fund their research.
GRETCHEN GOLDMAN: Yeah, it’s really turning the idea of conflict of interest on its head. You know, a typical EPA grant would go to furthering scientific understanding on a certain topic. So, I’m an air pollution scientist, so something that I might apply to get a grant for would be studying multi-pollutant interactions and their health effects. And then, if I were to also serve on a committee, I might get asked something like whether or not the EPA was going in the right direction when it came to water quality testing. And so, you know if I had this grant on air pollution how does that even tell me how I’m supposed to provide advice on water quality, right? They’re totally different realms. It’s really apples and oranges here. Even if you wanted to try to come up with an answer on an advisory committee that you felt like the EPA wanted, it’s not even clear what that would be, you know. So they’ve sort of created this argument and then decided that independent scientists, particularly those from academic institutions, that they would be conflicted.
But meanwhile, they’ve added to the committee many people from industries, so people with strong ties to industries that are affected by EPA regulations, and those people are unrestricted in that they’re able to serve despite those very clear conflicts of interest. So they’ve really flipped this idea around and turned it on its head.
BETWEEN THE LINES: This is not an academic exercise here. What goes on at the EPA actually affects people’s lives. What the EPA does or doesn’t do can actually save lives or condemn people to lives of diseases which could have been prevented. From your perspective as a scientist yourself, what’s at stake here in terms of lives? The lives of Americans out there?
GRETCHEN GOLDMAN: That’s right, there’s a lot at stake. The EPA, people often think of it as being an environmentally-focused agency, but its mission is actually about public health, too. And a lot of what the agency does now is protect people issues and the more that we defund the agency or remove scientists from the process or limit the resources that they have, the less they’re going to be able to protect us from all of these hazards. And so, it’s everything from air pollution that we talked about. It’s also water quality and making sure that they’re in charge of maintaining the Safe Drinking Water Act and implementing that.
It’s also chemical hazards, which is a whole other area of concern now, since many of the Trump administration appointees at the EPA on the chemical safety side have actually come directly from the chemical manufacturing industry. Air pollution doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or in what state you live. You know it’s going to affect us all.
And so I think we need to be diligent in making sure that we can minimize what happens there and keep people protected.
Learn more about opposition to the banning of EPA-funded scientists from serving on the agency’s advisory boards, by visiting Union of Concerned Scientists at ucsusa.org.
Independent Report Slams Democrats in Post-2016 Election Autopsy
Interview with Pia Gallegos, longtime civil-rights lawyer and New Mexico activist, conducted by Scott Harris
As Donald Trump enters his tenth month in office, public opinion polls find he is the most unpopular president at this stage in his term than any other occupant of the Oval Office in modern American history. His actions at home and abroad have alarmed Democrats, Republicans and independents. Apart from recent indictments by the independent counsel investigating charges of collusion between the Trump’s campaign and Russia, the president is seen to have triggered an number of ugly spats with Gold Star family members, NFL players, and the mayor of San Juan, Puerto, exacerbated tensions with North Korea and praised white supremacists as “very fine people.”
But as many U.S. voters remember the shock and dread they felt on election day 2016, when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency, there are growing concerns that the Democratic party has failed to learn the lessons of last year’s election defeat. The Democratic National Committee chose not to do a public “autopsy,” examining the reasons their party no longer has control of any branch of the federal government, only holds 16 of 50 governorships, and has lost 1,000 state legislative seats since 2009.
Filing this void, a group of activists with the nonprofit Action for a Progressive Future, wrote a 34-page report titled, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” The report focuses on some key factors that have contributed to the Democrats’ recent string of defeats, including low voter turnout among the party’s base. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Pia Gallegos, a longtime civil-rights lawyer and New Mexico activist, who was one of the team of four authors of the Autopsy. Here, she summarizes the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
PIA GALLEGOS: The Democratic party itself did not do a self-analysis or a critique regarding its failures of how and why it lost the presidential election in 2016. Oftentimes, a party does that when it loses a major election. It didn’t do that, and if it did, it didn’t publicize it. And so, a group of us took it upon ourselves under the leadership of Norman Solomon to do this report. And so, we looked various factors that failed within the Democratic party. We looked at corporate power and the party and we looked at race, and we looked the youth vote, and we looked at social movements and we looked at democracy – or the failure of democracy – within the party, and war and the party.
And we divided the report into sections like that and showed how the Democratic party has continuously, in all of these areas, failed to address the concerns of its constituencies.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you see in terms of the leadership of the Democratic party right now, following the election defeat.
PIA GALLEGOS: Right. I’m sorry to say that there’s really two wings to the Democratic party and we see this even with the head of Democratic party right now, Tom Perez who’s head of the DNC. And he’s just acted recently to purge the DNC of some of the most progressive members of the DNC ––because he’s allowed to appoint people and to depose people from the post. And so he’s brought in a whole bunch of political operatives and lobbyists – corporate lobbyists – as members of the DNC who will have superdelegate status, which means that they will be able to vote for a presidential candidate without regard to the pledged delegates that are required on every state level through the Electoral College.
As long as the Electoral College is not allowing a popular vote to determine who’s going to be president, the Democratic party has superimposed on top of that flawed scheme this idea of superdelegates who are people who are not responsive to the vote at all, who have no obligation to vote the will of the people, but who can vote the will of their corporate sponsors.
Perez also gets to nominate his own superdelegates and he has chosen corporate operatives and corporate lobbyists. So the Democratic party is far away from the will of the people and the realities of poor people who are struggling and students who are burdened by thousands and tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, and we do have a fractious Democratic party here.
But fortunately, you know, the people who are working the footsoldiers of the Democratic party – the ones who are working on the level of the neighborhoods – we’re the ones who are right trying to get the elected Democrats to be accountable, to be held accountable to what it is our real needs on the level of neighborhoods and working class people.
BETWEEN THE LINES: A lot of pundits these days look at the Democratic party these days and they see this ongoing conflict between the forces that supported Hillary Clinton and those that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders. Are you concerned that this conflict, if it continues on within the party will detract from any gains that the Democrats could make as a party in the upcoming critical 2018 election, given the stakes are so with all the rollbacks of progressive policies with the Trump administration in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress?
PIA GALLEGOS: It is absolutely essential for the Democrats to get elected to be taking care of the people of color and the youth vote and listening to their voices. That’s how they’re going to bring them back. If we could pay attention black communities and the Native American communities and the Latino communities and bring them back to vote, that’s how we’re going to win elections here. And so, we’re doing the only thing that can be done to get the Democratic party in power again – which is to go to those neglected communities. That’s the only way we’re going to win.
Homeless Activists March for Housing and Dignity in New Haven, Connecticut
Interview with Quentin Staggers, homeless activist, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
On Nov. 1, about 100 homeless people and their supporters marched through downtown New Haven, Connecticut demanding housing and dignity. Although the New Haven spends more money than any other city in Connecticut on programs for the homeless and says its first priority is getting people into housing where they can deal with their other issues such as unemployment, addiction and mental illness, some of those marching complained of being abused by the police. Others described dirty over-crowded conditions in one of the city’s main homeless shelters.
Activists that day marched from a church that provides meals to City Hall and then to the state courthouse. Marchers stopped outside another church that is offering sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant — before being welcomed by another church congregation for a full-course dinner.
Homeless activist Quentin Staggers who organized the “Housing, Not Jails” march in cooperation with the Connecticut Bail Fund, compiled a list of demands for the winner of New Haven’s Nov. 7 mayoral election. Demands include decriminalizing activities such as loitering and sleeping in public spaces, expanding and improving the city’s homelessness initiatives and ending the tax-exempt status of Yale University property. During the march, several people addressed the crowd, including Staggers — who we hear in this segment recorded and produced by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recast their strategic alliance including support for the International Iran nuclear agreement during a recent summit meeting in Tehran. Russian and Iran are allies in supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and signed new cooperation agreements. It was another step forward for Putin’s drive to boost Russia’s influence in the Middle East. (“Khamenei Says Iran, Russia Should Cooperate to Isolate U.S., Foster Middle East Stability,” Reuters, Nov. 1, 2017; “Russia Takes on Mideast Diplomacy as U.S. Retreats,” The Associated Press, Nov. 2, 2017)
Pretrial hearings before the U.S. military commission trying the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, erupted in chaos as commission Judge Airforce Colonel Vance Spath imposed a 21-day confinement against the military commission’s chief defense counsel, Marine Brigadier General John Baker. (“Gitmo Judge Sends Marine General Lawyer to 21 Days Confinement for Disobeying Orders,” Miami Herald, Nov. 1, 2017; “USS Cole Prosecutors Want No-Show Civilian Attorneys Found in Contempt of War Court,” Miami Herald, Oct. 30, 2017)
In Texas, the growing number of deaths among young African-American mothers is rising. Nationally, 700 women a year die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Despite broad gains in American medicine, women die in childbirth at a much higher rate than in other developed nations. Maternal death rates in the U.S. have more than doubled between 1987 and 2013. (“The Quiet Crisis Among African Americans: Pregnancy and Childbirth Are Killing Women at Inexplicable Rates,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2017)