Conservative politicians love to talk about how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only issues “job-killing regulations,” especially if they’re taking campaign contributions from fossil fuel billionaires like the Koch brothers or from agrochemical giants like Monsanto.
Republican Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Lamar Smith, for example, has spent years trying to stop the EPA from conducting any real research about climate change or passing any real regulations in general. But apparently it’s true that every once in a while, even a blind mouse finds cheese; it seems like Lamar Smith might actually have a legitimate complaint about an EPA report.
Last week, Smith wrote a letter to the EPA, demanding to know why a risk report marked “Final Report” about glyphosate was retracted just three days after it was published.
The EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee issued the “Final Report” on glyphosate on April 29, 2016, and 13 members of the review committee had signed their name to the report’s findings that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The findings should raise eyebrows to begin with, because they directly contradict a report from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which found last year that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” But what’s really caused a stir from environmentalists and conservatives alike, and why Lamar Smith has started overseeing the matter, is that the EPA pulled the report after just three days, and claimed that the report was published “inadvertently.”
Smith wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on May 4, 2016, that “the subsequent backtracking on [this report’s] finality raises questions about the agency’s motivation in providing a fair assessment of glyphosate.” But Lamar Smith was a few days late to the party condemning the EPA’s research, because the Center for Biological Diversity had already issued a press release condemning the EPA finding as “disappointing, but not terribly surprising [because] industry has been manipulating this research for years.”
This shouldn’t come as any surprise though, because using industry research is part of the EPA’s scheme of “cooperative regulation” — something that’s been in place ever since President Ronald Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch to head the EPA in the early 1980s.
During her tenure as head of the EPA, Gorsuch cut the EPA’s budget by 22 percent; she handed many of the duties of the EPA down to states and contractors; and she made a cascade of appointments at lower levels in the agency that led to a fundamental shift in how the EPA regulated industry.
You see, in the world of Reaganism, regulators shouldn’t challenge industry. Instead, under “cooperative regulation,” regulators are supposed to work together with industry to establish regulations that protect public safety without hurting corporate profits.
“Cooperative regulation” is why regulators in the United States need to prove that a product is unsafe before a corporation will pull that product from store shelves, because corporate profits are at least as valuable as public safety.
It’s why over 750 products containing glyphosate are still for sale in the United States nearly a year after the World Health Organization found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic.”
“Cooperative regulation” is also why our regulatory agencies take research from privately funded think-tanks and from industry lobbying groups.
And that’s exactly what seems to be at the core of what’s going on with this retracted glyphosate report.
Dozens of papers cited in the retracted EPA report on glyphosate are “unpublished regulatory studies,” meaning that they weren’t peer-reviewed and it’s unclear how the data was collected or tested. As Nathan Donley with the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in a press release, “The EPA’s analysis relied heavily on industry-funded studies that have not undergone public scrutiny, while the WHO used publicly available research for its analysis.”
And this is a huge problem, because the EPA was established by the Nixon administration “because arresting environmental deterioration is of great importance to the quality of life in our country and the world.”
When Nixon authorized the creation of the EPA, there was bipartisan consensus that this country needs a single, streamlined regulatory agency dedicated to protecting our air and water. Now, we’re approaching a bipartisan consensus that the EPA is broken. And the fact is, it’s been broken for more than 30 years, ever since the Reagan administration turned it into a partner of industry, rather than a regulator.
It’s time to get federal regulators out of bed from the industries that they’re supposed to be overseeing.
It’s time for the EPA and other regulatory agencies to adopt the precautionary principle that says that techniques like fracking and products like glyphosate have to be proven safe before consumers are exposed to them.
We need to strengthen the EPA and other regulatory agencies so that they can conduct independent research about environmental threats and public health concerns, and so that they don’t need to solicit biased, industry-funded research from multinational corporations.
And it’s time to end the revolving door between the private sector and government agencies like the EPA, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, because the American people deserve government regulators that put public safety ahead of corporate profits.