Having spent 15 years as a federal regulator, I have seen first-hand what has been called the "Deep State," a core of diehard adherents to a certain philosophy or set of policies that conflict with the nation's political leadership. They are not sinister plotters of a coup, just career bureaucrats who know they'll outlast the current administration and its political appointees.
EPA is exhibit number one. Its career bureaucrats have long considered their "constituency" to be not the American people but the most radical, anti-technology, anti-corporate elements of the environmental movement.
Last fall, in order to introduce more diverse opinions into the regulatory process and reduce conflicts of interest, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wisely revamped the membership of the agency's Science Advisory Board, prohibiting membership to recipients of EPA grants. The outside experts serve three-year terms on what is arguably the most important of 22 EPA panels that review and offer opinions on the science behind EPA proposed rules.
But Pruitt's philosophy, which appears to be shared by his successor, has obviously not filtered down to mid-level management's treatment of other committees.
A stark example of that is the list of nominations to the EPA's Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), whose members are supposed to provide "independent scientific advice and recommendations to the EPA on the scientific and technical aspects of risk assessments, methodologies, and pollution prevention measures and approaches for chemicals regulated under TSCA."
EPA: Working With Radical Groups
The list is replete with names of activist scientists who collaborate with radical anti-chemical advocacy groups such as Environmental Justice and the National Resources Defense Council. Even more problematic, at least seven of the nominees work as expert witnesses (read: "hired guns") for opportunistic trial lawyers who bring litigation against companies that have sold or used asbestos and other products.
Are the bureaucrats who assembled the list unaware of concepts like bias and conflict of interest?
The name that really stands out is Kurt Straif, head of the monograph program at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). During his tenure, the agency has become a poster child for politicized junk science and conflicted double-dealing with trial lawyers.
The most infamous instance of this was the flawed and corrupt assessment of the herbicide glyphosate in 2015, which has led to some 8,000 lawsuits in the U.S.
Thanks to the investigative reporting of people like Professor David Zaruk at the "Risk Monger" blog and Kate Kelland at Reuters, we are now privy to much of the back story behind that review; and what we know strongly suggests that the IARC monogram program under Straif acted less as a scientific body than as an adjunct of the multi-billion dollar tort-litigation machine, which turned out cancer assessments that could then be leveraged to massive paydays in American courtrooms.
Even the fact that IARC under Straif chose to review glyphosate was surprising, given the fact that regulatory agencies around the world — including the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), the U.S. EPA, regulatory authorities in Canada, Japan, Australia, Korea, and even the hyper-precautionary EU — have done much more thorough risk analyses multiple times over glyphosate's 40-year history.
And all have found it safe and not judged it to be carcinogenic. But IARC and the trial lawyers appear to have had an agenda other than determining the scientific facts.
Glyphosate is not the only casualty of Straif's monograph program, which reviews numerous chemicals, foods, and other substances every year. Johnson and Johnson is currently fighting off some 10,000 lawsuits generated by a similar IARC ruling finding that the talc in their baby powder may be carcinogenic, and chemical manufacturers around the world now fear that their products will appear next on the list.
That the EPA would even consider adding Straif and the many other seriously conflicted activist-scientists to their SACC nominee list shows the Deep State at work: With a wink and a nod, bureaucrats uncritically add inappropriate candidates to the list because, nominated by "friendly" special interests, they are likely to rubber-stamp regulators' radical policies and decisions.
Deep State Activism
Without serious pruning, this list almost guarantees that the advisory committee will become a home-grown IARC: an echo-chamber for anti-chemical activists and a launching pad for ever more, and ever more destructive, lawsuits.
EPA should throw out this slate and start from scratch, making it clear that nominees with such clear and obvious conflicts of interest are unacceptable on this or any other advisory committee.
Most important of all, the political appointees who run the EPA must gain control over the denizens of the agency's Deep State.
Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the U.S. FDA's Office of Biotechnology.