EPA will review restrictive communication policy for science advisers

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In response to a letter from science and journalism organizations criticizing the agency’s restrictive policy on public communications by Science Advisory Board members, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has asked the EPA Science Adviser to review the policy. Hopefully this will create an opportunity to raise a number of issues about a complex issue — the relationship between EPA scientists, the media, and the public.

Earlier post: EPA’s restrictive communications policy for science advisers (August 15)

Michael Halpern at the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the groups that wrote to EPA, reports:

Update: EPA Will Review Troublesome Communications Policy for Independent Science Advisory Board

Last week, UCS joined other science and journalism organizations in a letter to the EPA expressing concern about how a new policy might limit the ability of independent scientists who advise the agency to speak publicly about their scientific research and opinions in a personal capacity, particularly the scientists who serve on its Science Advisory Board. …

The EPA Chief of Staff has responded by saying the agency has a commitment to transparency and scientific integrity and that the Administrator has asked the EPA Science Advisor, Dr. Bob Kavlock, to review this issue and consult with those who have raised it.

The response doesn’t mention EPA Scientific Integrity Official Francesca Grifo, but presumably she should be involved in this review as well. Also, EPA has some history of restrictive policy on public communication by agency scientists and other experts, which this might be an opportunity to get the agency to address.

On the other hand, we appreciate EPA’s politically sensitive position as a regulatory agency whose decisions and budget are constantly under attack, and often not for reasons that are for the public good. Anything about EPA in the media, including communication by EPA officials and scientists, is always at risk of being misrepresented and misused in an adversarial way¬†by aggressive and litigious corporate interests and toxic politicians.

When they have access, the media have a responsibility to provide high-quality, knowledgeable, accurate reporting on EPA-related issues. Of course this is not always what happens. We support a strong policy of freedom of communication by agency scientists, science advisers, and other experts. But if we were EPA officials, we would no doubt also be sensitive about how such communications might be used and misused. It’s a jungle out there. This is a complex issue.

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