Feb 9, 2021 - Energy & Environment

EPA alleges Trump officials interfered in toxic chemical assessment

A view of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters on March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The Environmental Protection Agency headquartersin Washington, D.C. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Officials appointed by former President Trump interfered to overrule career scientists in a safety assessment for a toxic chemical linked to health issues at the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA said Tuesday.

Why it matters: EPA career scientists found in a review that conclusions made by the officials in regards to the chemical, PFBS, "were compromised by political interference as well as infringement of authorship and the scientific independence of the authors' conclusions," according to a statement by President Biden's EPA.

"This constitutes a violation of the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy and the documents have been removed from the EPA website while the agency completes its review."
— EPA statement
  • The chemical affected by the January changes to the safety assessment has been linked to the contamination of drinking water affecting some 860,000 Americans.
  • Politico reported at the time that Trump-appointed officials had "overruled the agency's career scientists to weaken" the assessment.

What they're saying: "Issuing documents, like the PFBS Toxicity Assessment, that include conclusions purporting to reflect science when in fact they are the product of biased political interference undermines the agency’s scientific integrity policy," said Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development and the agency’s acting science advisor.

  • It "erodes the trust that the American public has in EPA, the quality of our science, and our ability to protect their health and the environment," she added.

What's next: A Trump administration release and the agency’s website will be updated to indicate the removal of the assessment and provide transparency around the agency’s actions.

The big picture: Biden has ordered a government-wide review of over 100 Trump-era policies and direct agencies to prepare a suite of emissions and energy efficiency rules, after four years of the former president rolling back a slew of Obama-era regulations.

  • Biden has issued a memorandum on restoring "trust in government through scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking."

For the record: The EPA's statement comes one day after CDC director Rochelle Walensky told the Washington Post that "minority" of the health agency's COVID-19 pandemic response guidelines had been "politically swayed" by some Trump-appointed staff.

The other side: In January, an EPA spokesperson with the Trump administration defended the changes, telling Politico it's "routine" to consult with others in the agency.

  • "This collaboration is important as other program offices have information and expertise that can improve the scientific quality of the work product under review," she said.
Go deeper