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November 12, 2004

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Two Industry-Affiliated Panelists Leave NAS Coal Panel

CSPI, environmental groups laud decision

The National Academy of Sciences yesterday announced that two provisional members of the coal combustion waste committee who had drawn criticism from environmental organizations for having financial ties to industry will not serve on the final committee. NAS officials said more changes may still be made.

Edward M. Green, a coal industry lobbyist, “is no longer serving on the committee,” according to the NAS website. In addition, Patricia Buffler, a long-term consultant of the Electric Power Research Institute and a member of the board of FMC Corporation, resigned.

The widespread dumping of coal combustion wastes (CCW) has drawn the ire of dozens of community groups. Citing elevated levels of carcinogens in local drinking water near dump sites in Pennsylvania and Indiana, they want the NAS panel to conduct an independent study of the safety of dumping CCW.

Last month, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and 41 environmental groups sent a letter citing industry ties of 6 of 14 provisional appointees to the committee. The letter requested the removal of the two members with the most egregious conflicts of interest: attorney/lobbyist Green and Robin Mills Ridgeway, an environmental engineer for Purdue University’s Wade Utility, which uses its CCW to reclaim university land. Ridgeway remains a panel member.

Environmental groups praised the changes. “As a citizen living in an impact zone I applaud the panel members and the academy for recognizing that balance is essential,” said Lisa Graves Marcucci, president of Jefferson Action Group, a community organization in Jefferson Hills, Pa., which is near a mine that was reclaimed with fly ash. Originally one of the most vocal opponents of the committee’s composition, she said, “If the committee stayed the way it is I’d be happy as a clam.” NAS officials contacted today said more scientists may be added to the panel. “I would welcome any additions of scientists that can address environmental impacts or human health,” Graves Marcucci said.

Noting that four scientists with ties to industry remain on the panel, Lisa Evans, senior attorney for the Clean Air Task Force, agreed that more scientists familiar with the health effects of CCW should be added to the committee. "It's imperative that this committee, which will evaluate the harm this practice is doing to coal field communities across the nation, carry out its mission in an open and unbiased way," said Evans. "To improve the panel's make-up and comply with federal law, the NAS must add scientists who acknowledge the environmental damage resulting from the dumping of coal combustion waste in mines.”