Washington, DC, Jan. 19, 2020 — In preparing one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most consequential actions, its political appointees excluded both key scientific information and its own experts, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint summarizes the accounts of current EPA employees and is co-signed by 44 former and current federal employees, including three former regional administrators, as well as experts from the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
It charges that Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Assistant Administrator David Ross, General Counsel Matt Leopold, Principal Deputy General Counsel David Fotoui, Senior Science Advisor Owen McDonough, and other top officials in EPA’s Office of Water, took direct action to prevent the agency’s best scientific research and its experts from contributing to the new definition of waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) in blatant violation of EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy by –
• Directing expert staff to refrain from submitting comments that could be part of the formal administrative record;
• Blocking use of scientific information to inform policy; and
• Publicly mischaracterized scientific content.
“This complaint is an autopsy on how scientific integrity was assassinated inside EPA,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “The fact that so many current and former federal employees have spoken out against this flawed rulemaking process speaks volumes.”
The PEER complaint echoes recent criticism from EPA’s Science Advisory Board, including several Trump appointees, that the rewrite of the WOTUS policy departs –
“from EPA recognized science [and] threatens to weaken protection of the nation’s waters by disregarding the established connectivity of ground waters and by failing to protect ephemeral streams and wetlands which connect to navigable waters below the surface. These changes are proposed without a fully supportable scientific basis, while potentially introducing substantial new risks to human and environmental health…”
The complaint demands that science be the basis of any future WOTUS rule, and that agency experts have meaningful input. The complaint also asks that responsible political appointees are disciplined for violating the Scientific Integrity Policy and undergo remedial training on the topic.
“The environmental and public health implications of these scientific integrity violations cannot be overemphasized, but another casualty is the public’s confidence in EPA science,” added Bennett. “How the agency handles this complaint will tell if its scientific integrity policy is a dead letter.”
Read the Scientific Integrity complaint
See the Science Advisory Board letter on WOTUS