GOP war on science: EPA chief of staff bullies scientist into mangling testimony

  • Published on June 27th, 2017

As noted here and here, the Trump regime is intent on wrecking the Environmental Protection Agency. And it is clear from the comments of the head of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors that the wrecking will include making propaganda and other lies part of the agency’s mission going forward. How much long-term damage will be done by this and other moves can only be guessed at, even if Donald Trump leaves or is tossed out of office in three-and-a-half years.

By Meteor BladesDeborah Swackhammer, chairwoman of the Environmental Protection Agency's Board of Scientific Counselors

Although many of the people being appointed to top staff posts—including EPA chief Scott Pruitt—are the sort who would like to see the agency left without one stone atop another and the legislative and administrative ground beneath it salted, eviscerating the staff and budget of the agency is much more effective than abolishing it altogether. The Republicans can claim the EPA is still there, doing the job it was designed to do, even as its guts are ripped out, its institutional memory destroyed, its veteran staff dissed and dismissed, and its public persona mutilated by scrubbing its websites of anything that ticks off the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.

A key aspect of creating this hollow shell has been getting rid of most of the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors. Come September 1, by not having had their agency contracts renewed, all but 11 of the 68 advisers will be gone, according to board chairwoman Deborah Swackhammer. All the summer and fall meetings of the scientific committees have been canceled. No committee has a chair or vice chair. Those empty science adviser slots will now be available to be filled by nominees suggested by Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the loony climate science deniers on Oklahoma Sen, Jim Inhofe’s staff.

We are getting a good idea of what kind of behavior to expect from one of those recently appointed former Inhofe staff members, Ryan science environmental protection agency logoJackson, the EPA chief of staff. That window was cracked open Monday when Coral Davenport at The New York Times wrote about the contents of some Jackson emails in which he told Swackhammer, an environmental chemist, to alter her already submitted testimony to Congress about the role of states in environmental policy. She was told to stick with the agency’s talking points regarding the dismissals of the scientists on the board:

Among other requests in his May 22 emails, Mr. Jackson asked Dr. Swackhamer to note that “a decision had not yet been made” about whether to dismiss her colleagues on the agency’s scientific review board. However, at that time, several scientists on the board had already received notices that their terms would not be renewed. Since that testimony, the E.P.A. has sent out dozens more notices to academic scientists that their terms on the board will not be renewed.

Swackhammer was gobsmacked by the request to “correct” her testimony in that regard. As well she should have been since the dismissal decision had been already made, and the “correction” Jackson wanted from her was a flat-out lie.

 Swackhammer wasn’t the only person stunned by Jackson’s move:

James Thurber, the founder and former director of the Center for Congressional Studies at American University, said he had never heard of an administration pressuring a witness, particularly a scientist, to alter testimony already submitted for the official record.

“It’s shocking and insulting to be told before you go in to alter your testimony to what the administration wants,” he said. “This just shows a certain amount of amateurishness about how these hearings work. They’re supposed to be places where you get objective views. You don’t go around telling people what to say.”

Lamar Smith, the anti-science Republican chairman of the House Science Committee gave a pffffft to Swackhammer’s accusations, claiming that her giving the emails to the Democrats on the committee politicized the issue. In a letter, the panel’s Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, have called on the EPA’s inspector general to look into Jackson’s move with a view to determining whether it was inappropriate or illegal.

Sorry to say, this is just one of many similar moves we can expect from the new crew at EPA. Such bullying is, of course, just the sort of behavior that chills veteran employees and forces them to look for other jobs or retire earlier than planned. And that, of course, doesn’t bother the new regime’s lieutenants one bit since it fits in perfectly with their demolition plans.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.