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December 1, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 12/01/2008

Midnight Regs Sans Science Threaten Nation

A new report by the Center for American Progress blasts a slew of Bush Administration "midnight regulations" that would weaken government rules on public health, labor, and the environment. The report calls the proposals a "backwards sprint to the finish." About 136 rule changes are under consideration at the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) as of the end of October, many of which may undermine science-based environmental regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. Proposed midnight rule changes are also being tracked by OMB Watch, ProPublica, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA)office, and the Congressional Research Service.

According to the CRS report, 21 of the rule changes under review at OIRA concern EPA regulations. For instance, a final rule sent to OMB on October 24 would exempt large industrial animal livestock operations from hazardous waste reporting requirements under the Clean Air Act. OMB approved the regulation despite EPA's failure to complete a study of the health effects of such emissions. According to the Government Accountability Office, the partially-completed study is funded largely by the livestock industry and is unlikely to provide "scientific and statistically valid data."

Other rule changes at the EPA, Interior, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would exempt livestock operations from Clean Water Act reporting, allow regional councils dominated by fishing interests to review the environmental impacts of fisheries management decisions, and allow federal agencies to discount the effects of global warming when considering the impacts of federal decisions on endangered species.

GAO: Conflicts Hinder DOE Nuclear Oversight

Conflicts of interest are interfering with the Department of Energy's oversight of its own nuclear energy facilities and are increasing the likelihood of nuclear accidents, a new report by the Government Accountability Office charged. The report also claimed that the DOE's increased emphasis on production has created dangerous conditions at a number of the department's highly hazardous nuclear operations. A separate report in October of last year found weak oversight at DOE weapons facilities led to repeated accidents and violations of nuclear safety requirements.

In 2006 Congress created the Office of Health, Safety and Security (HSS) as an independent oversight office within DOE, and charged this office with appraising the environment, safety, and health programs at DOE sites. But the DOE then turned this office over to officials responsible for nuclear energy and weapons development at DOE. The report found that HSS-the only independent office capable of overseeing DOE nuclear facilities-does not have accurate information about the number of nuclear facilities it is supposed to oversee or knowledge of safety systems at these facilities. "DOE self-regulation ... creates a potential conflict of interest between meeting the mission objectives of the department while at the same time ensuring the proper independent emphasis on safety," the report said.

Research Center, Psychiatrist Tied to Pharma

Internal email messages and documents obtained from Johnson & Johnson revealed that Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman pushed the company to finance a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston whose goal would be to "move forward the commercial goals of J.& J." The documents also showed the company gave the center $700,000 in 2002 alone, stories in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal revealed last week. The court documents were released to the press by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Finance committee.

Biederman reported no income from J&J for 2001 in a disclosure report filed with Harvard University. When asked to check again, he said he received $3,500. But J&J told Grassley that it paid Biederman $58,169 in 2001. The court documents also revealed that one executive at J&J referred to Biederman as "not someone to jerk around," and someone who "has a very short fuse." John Bruins, a marketing executive at J&J, reportedly begged his superiors to approve a $3,000 check to Biederman in payment for a lecture he gave at the University of Connecticut.

According to the New York Times article, thousands of parents have sued AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and J&J, claiming that their children were injured after taking antipsychotic medicines made by the firms and promoted by Biederman, who on Nov. 17 was ordered to give testimony in the case.

Odds and Ends

A footnote in the Supreme Court decision that reduced the punitive damages awarded in the Exxon-Valdex Alaska oil spill raises questions over the use of corporate-funded science in court decisions, the New York Times reported last week. ... James McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer and the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, last week criticized the Bush administration for giving political appointees permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, the Washington Post reported. ... Alberta's Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft asked the province's new ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson to investigate the Alberta Health Services Board's conflict of interest policies, raising "serious concerns that appointments to the new (board) have been made without proper consideration of conflicts of interest," according to the Edmonton Journal. "It is not clear to us whether these problems have arisen because (a) conflict of interest policy is lacking for the Alberta Health Services, or because policies were simply ignored or overruled, " Taft is quoted as saying. ... The Environmental Protection Agency has put a freeze on the construction of new coal-fired power plants that lack controls on carbon dioxide emissions, following a Sierra Club appeal of a permit issued last year for a proposed coal-fired power plant in Utah. The EPA's Environmental Appeals Board ruled that in keeping with the Supreme Court's April 2007 decision and the urgings of its own scientists, the agency could not refuse to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to Tom Avril of the Philadelphia Inquirer for his story disclosing corporate funding accepted by TV Host Lisa Hark. Hark, the former host of a weight-loss reality TV show on TLC and a former director of the University of Pennsylvania Nutrition Education and Prevention Program, took money from the food industry to promote certain products.

  • Cheer to Denise Grady of the New York Times for disclosing that the authors of a study on ventricular assist devices, or heart pumps, had taken funding from companies that manufacture the devices, though the study itself was funded by the National Institute on Aging. The study was published (subscription required) last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.