More than a dozen public interest and environmental organizations today protested the presence of a top forest products industry executive on a National Academies of Science (NAS) committee charged with evaluating the impact of forest management practices on the nation’s water quality.
The NAS appointed George Weyerhaeuser, Jr., a vice president of Weyerhaeuser Company, one of the largest forest products companies in the world, to the Hydrologic Impacts of Forest Management Committee despite NAS rules prohibiting the appointment of scientists with conflicts of interest to its advisory panels. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation had asked for the study committee, whose first meeting is Wednesday.
“This study committee will have a direct impact the Weyerhaeuser Company so having an executive from that company on the panel is a direct conflict of interest,” said Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “While the law allows for exceptions in cases were a scientist’s expertise is irreplaceable, any special expertise that Mr. Weyerhaeuser brings to this committee could easily be gotten elsewhere.”
The public interest groups also protested the lack of balance on the committee, another requirement of the law. While at least two forest products industry consultants were appointed, no scientists from environmental groups or with a conservation-oriented background are on the panel.
“The bias of the committee as it stands is slanted toward private industry interests, whose function is not necessarily in the best interest of sustainable forest management practices, including improved water quality,” said Amy Mall, senior forest policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In recent years, there have been both legislative and administrative actions dramatically changing the policies that govern forest health and management. Congress is currently considering legislation that seeks to waive the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as various water quality statutes, for logging projects. The Forest Service is finalizing regulations to exclude forest management plans from review under NEPA. Our national forests supply clean drinking water to tens of millions of Americans and provide some of the most important aquatic habitat in the country, so it is crucial that any NAS panel evaluating current practices in light of these proposed changes be totally free of conflicts of interest and be properly balanced if the public is to have any faith in the final report, the groups say.
The letter’s signers provided four names of scientists willing to serve on the committee to give it better balance.For more information, contact: Center for Science in the Public Interest