Scientific Community Optimistic About New Admin.
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Feb. 4, 2009
Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions
Community Optimistic New Administration
Scientific Integrity to Government
Interview with Celia
Washington, D.C. representative for the Union
of Concerned Scientists' Integrity Project,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus
From breaking his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant early in his first term, critics charge former President George Bush showed contempt for the role of science in government. In the view of many observers, he appointed political hacks whose main qualification was their loyalty to him and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Many of those appointees attempted to muzzle scientists who tried to disseminate the truth to the public and Congress about endangered species, climate change and the impact of mountain-top removal. President Bush's appointees also demanded changes or omitted whole sections of government reports to cover up or minimize the damage his administration's policies were causing.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Celia Wexler, the Washington, D.C. representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Project. UCS fought throughout the Bush/Cheney years to hold the administration accountable for its anti-science bias and actions. Now, with President Obama in the White House, the organization is much more hopeful about restoring scientific integrity to government, and what some are referring to as the president's scientific "dream team." But Wexler says not all the damage can be undone quickly, and it's important to stay vigilant.
CELIA WEXLER: What we’ve seen so far from President Obama is he gets that it’s very important that science be able to flourish and not fear political interference. And he’s shown that in what he said -- even in the inaugural address -- he talked about restoring science to its rightful place, but he’s also shown it in the quality of the scientists that he’s appointed to head agencies or to be his top advisers, and he’s also shown it in the kinds of process reforms that really, really emphasize the importance of transparency. Science flourishes in the sunlight.
We know the past few years have been very hard on science. At the Department of Interior, you had one political appointee -- Julie McDonald -- who really harassed and intimidated scientists at the Fish & Wildlife Service. And that resulted in scores -- we probably don’t know how many -- of decisions affected endangered species that really need to be reviewed, to see to what extent they’re causing damage and to what extent they’re not science-based. And that review has been ongoing, but it needs to continue and be intensified.
We know there are a lot of Bush rules that have been put into effect that are very harmful, that the administration needs to try to reevaluate, even rules that have already taken effect, like mountaintop removal, which is environmentally very damaging. There are other rules that just became final that will take away the ability of scientists to weigh in when other agencies are deciding about policies such as removing timber, cutting down trees, or siting utility plants, that have an impact on endangered species -- they’ve always been consulted before, and now with these Bush rules, they won’t be. So we are concerned with the rules that have taken effect.
We are concerned about the very low morale at the agencies. Surveys that we’ve done over the past several years show that more than 1,400 scientists have told us that they fear retaliation for speaking out about their agency’s mission-driven work, whether inside or outside the agency. And it’s going to take more than the head of the agency to say things are going to change, like Lisa Jackson has already started to do with the memo she issued to EPA employees yesterday -- Lisa Jackson who’s now head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, a new Obama appointee who’s been confirmed. It’s going to take communicating that message down to the managerial level. So all these managers that maybe some of them have drunk the Kool-Aid and interfered with science, all of them need to be re-educated. And beyond that, we need something in law that says whistleblowers won’t be retaliated against. So we need the Obama administration to put some political capital and push Congress to pass strong protections for all federal employees, including federal scientists, who expose attempts to alter or suppress federal research.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Celia Wexler, some of the things that the Bush administration put into effect have been reversed just by President Obama signing an order, such as the so-called global gag rule related to abortion. But a lot of these changes that went into effect can’t just be reversed by the president. They have to go through a reverse ruling process, is that right, and that could take months or maybe even longer?
CELIA WEXLER: The new head of the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo that explained what the Obama administration would do about rules. Now, rules that have not taken effect will be delayed for at least 60 days, so that the new administration can evaluate them. Rules that were in the pipeline will just be halted – they just won’t go any further.
Now, when you get to rules that have taken effect, depending how long they’ve been in effect, there are certain things that can be done. One is that Congress can step in and use the Congressional Review Act to overturn rules. That’s very politically difficult, but it can be done, and indeed, Rep. Nick Rahall has already started that process on some of the endangered species rules. The other things that can be done, for example, is if lawsuits are brought against some of these more egregious rules -- and there is litigation pending in some cases -- the administration can choose to settle. But in some cases, what our new administration will have to do will take time if it requires actually passing a new rule. That requires notice of comment; there have to be a lot of cross-procedural hurdles to go through, and that can take many months. But I think the new administration is exploring every single option.
And, if the administration feels that a rule truly jeopardizes public health and safety, there are some procedural shortcuts you can take as well.
Call the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Project's Washington D.C. office at (202) 223-6133, or visit their website at http://www.ucsusa.org.
Melinda Tuhus is producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Feb. 6, 2009. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.
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