Scientists' Whale Protection Efforts Navigate White House Opposition
Responding to shipping industry pressure, the White House is holding up a plan to reduce ship speeds that would have gone a long way toward protecting the world's 400 surviving right whales, which have been on the nation's endangered species list since 1973. The National Marine Fisheries Service more than a year ago proposed a rule that would limit cargo ship speeds during the migration of right whales between Florida and New England. But in a move called "peculiar" by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Office of Management and Budget asked the President's Council of Economic Advisors to review decades of research by NMFS scientists, which shows that ship strikes kill whales and are the leading factor imperiling the right whales' recovery. OMB was responding to months of lobbying culminating in a May 3 letter from the World Shipping Council, which represents the globe's 27 major shipping companies. Greg Silber, a spokesman for the NMFS Office of Protected Resources, called the one-year delay in implementing the rule unusual. "The threat of extinction is real," he said.
Where Did EPA Grants to Non-Profit for Pork Farm Cleanups Go?
The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general has given up trying to recover the $25 million given to America's Clean Water Foundation, a nonprofit with close ties to the National Pork Producers Council that was set up in 1989 to help farms conduct voluntary environmental assessments to comply with the Clean Water Act. EPA investigators earlier this year released a report alleging accounting irregularities and embezzlement by an ACWF employee. But when the EPA cut off funds and sought reimbursement, the agency was informed that ACWF had dissolved.
According to Alan Guebert, a freelance agricultural journalist who broke the storythe National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) in 1998 successfully lobbied Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) to secure a $5 million grant to the non-profit ACWF to conduct hog farm cleanup assessments. The grant has been renewed every year since. ACWF then subcontracted the work to Environmental Management Solutions (later Validus, Inc.), a for-profit subsidiary of NPPC formed to carry out the assessments. The OIG’s John Patrick says that while his office may bar individuals connected with ACWF from receiving future EPA grants, the agency has little recourse to recover any of the millions of taxpayer dollars lost to the now-defunct foundation. "It's a sad situation," Patrick said.
BLM’s Analysis of Herbicide Effects Falls Short
The Bureau of Land Management's environmental assessment of its plan to fight invasive species by spraying herbicides over 932,000 acres of public lands in 17 western states ignores at least eight chemicals that will be used in the program, according to comments filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The BLM justified the omission by referring to previous analyses of the chemicals conducted by the BLM and the Forest Service in 2004 and 1991. But these analyses did not consider the effects of, among others slated for use in the program, dicamba, a noted reproductive toxin that may also have toxic effects to a number of aquatic organisms, and 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, a potential carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor. Comments on the assessment are due July 31.
Conflicted Members Sit on EPA Lead Review Panel
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday will release its draft report on the risks of lead exposure, which will be used to determine allowable air pollution levels for lead. After a public comment period, the draft will undergo peer review by an outside panel of experts, at least three of whom have received research funding from trade groups or companies that emit particulate lead into the air. Joshua Cohen of the Harvard University School of Public Health worked for Gradient Corporation from 1994 through 1999, and received research funding from the International Lead Zinc Research Organization, Inc. as recently as 2001. Sean Hays of Summit Toxicology received funding from private industry to develop risk assessments for a variety of chemicals, according to the EPA's website. And Deborah Cory-Slechta of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Rutgers State University co-authored a 2006 study funded by the Electric Power Research Institute. The panel's Lead Human Exposure and Health Risk Assessments for Selected Case Studies, Draft Report, will be available for public comment at the agency's website.
Fraudulent Science Study Retracted
Science magazine last week printed a retraction by three of four authors of a 2006 article claiming early differentiation in embryonic stem cells because it contained falsified images of a two-cell embryo. Lead author Kaushik Deb apparently reproduced images of the same embryo throughout the article, but represented them as different embryos. The article caused a stir among embryologists whose previous work had shown cell differentiation occurring much later in the embryonic development process. The retraction came a month after the University of Missouri found Deb guilty of research misconduct. The three other authors: R. Michael Roberts, whose lab ran the project, Mayandi Sivaguru, and Hwan Yul Yong; were exonerated by the university in February, according to The Scientist magazine.
Odds and Ends
British authorities began hearings earlier this month on allegations that physician Andrew Wakefield, Executive Director of the nonprofit Thoughtful House in Austin, Texas, engaged in unethical conduct in a study finding that childhood vaccinations are linked to the onset of autism . . . A preliminary study by scientists in the California state health department shows a correlation between two pesticides and autism, the Los Angeles Times reports . . . Dale Hall of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing endangered species decisions made by former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald. . . The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on July 31 to investigate "The Political Influence of the Bush Administration on Agency Science and Decision-Making" . . . A federal panel studying the widely-used plastic bisphenol-A holds its second meeting August 6-8 in Alexandria, VA. Its draft report has been criticized by the Natural Resources Defense Council for relying on industry-funded studies not subject to peer review. . . UCLA research associate James David Lieber allegedly falsified urine samples and interviews of research subjects in a 2005 study of female opiate addicts who visited methadone clinics, and allegedly stole more than $5,000 intended to cover stipends for the subjects, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Cheers and Jeers