By Lisa Friedman © The New York Times Co. The Denver Post
WASHINGTON » The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration’s political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.
The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staffers battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Joe Biden’s political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.
In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had “compromised the integrity” of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a herbicide in popular weedkillers such as Roundup that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.
The broader list of decisions where staffers say scientific integrity was violated is expected to reach about 90 items, according to one person involved in the process. It currently includes well-known controversies like the ricochet of decisions around Pebble Mine, a proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, as well as rulings around relatively obscure toxic chemicals.
“Manipulating, suppressing, or otherwise impeding science has real-world consequences for human health and the environment,” the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, said in an agencywide email message Tuesday. “When politics drives science rather than science informing policy, we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us.”
He asked employees to bring “any items of concern” to the agency’s scientific integrity officials or the independent inspector general and pledged to encourage “the open exchange of differing scientific and policy positions.”
President Donald Trump’s well-documented attacks on science include doctoring a map with a black Sharpie to avoid acknowledging that he was wrong about the path of a hurricane and pressuring scientists to back his false claim; meddling in federal coronavirus research; and pressuring regulators to approve COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Those actions provoked bipartisan concern during his administration.