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EPA Watchdog to Probe Alleged Retaliation Against Scientists

April 12, 2021, 7:50 PM

The EPA’s internal watchdog will examine allegations that managers under previous administrations retaliated against scientists, officials said during an internal staff meeting on Monday.

Environmental Protection Agency leaders want to follow up on reports of “politicial officials kicking you out of meetings, telling you to exclude data or alter scientific conclusions,” Michal Freedhoff, acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, said during the meeting.

The Office of Inspector General investigation is an attempt by the Biden administration to ensure that the EPA is meeting its mission to let scientists speak freely and air their conclusions, even if their findings and opinions don’t match up with agency policy goals.

An EPA employee who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly shared meeting comments by Freedhoff and Francesca Grifo, the agency’s scientific integrity official, with Bloomberg Law.

Both Grifo and Freedhoff encouraged EPA employees to report any retaliation allegations to senior leadership or the inspector general. The EPA is hoping to collect case studies by the summer “so that you can truly see the evidence that this change is, in fact, happening,” Grifo said.

Science vs. Policy

Agency leadership will also provide training to clearly demarcate the line between science and policy.

“I actually have come to the point where I’m not so sure that it is so fuzzy,” Grifo said.

The EPA leaders also clarified that their promises to return to scientific principles aren’t meant to accuse agency employees of drifting away from those ideals.

Rather, the frequent calls that “science is back” refer to a new attitude among agency leaders—not rank and file staffers—who have taken over under the Biden administration, Freedhoff said.

“We know you’ve been here the whole time,” she said. “We’re judging the direction that has sometimes been provided over the past few years.”

Freedhoff said she “in no way” wants to create the impression that career EPA scientists themselves abandoned scientific integrity, “because we don’t think that at all.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged to staffers at the meeting that “over the last few years, you may have felt that the guiding purpose that first led you here veered temporarily off course.”

On March 31, Grifo told employees that the EPA is working to strengthen its scientific integrity policy to shore up norms on honesty, rigor, transparency, commitment to evidence, and peer review.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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