White House Told Johnson to Block CA Waiver
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson wanted to grant California a Clean Air Act waiver allowing the nation’s largest state to regulate carbon emissions, but changed his mind after hearing from White House officials, according to an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Johnson, who testified at a committee hearing last week, refused to provide details about his conversations with White House staff or say who had contacted him. A similar chain of events, including a late night call from the White House, led Johnson to issue a weakened ozone standard over the objections of agency scientists in March, according to documents revealed last week in another committee hearing. “You have essentially become a figurehead,” committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) told Johnson. P>
The revelations at the hearings suggest Johnson lied last month when he told four agency union presidents that his decisions on carbon emissions and ozone had been “based on sound science and scientific integrity.” Following that statement, John O’Grady of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 328 asked Johnson and “other like-minded appointees to resign immediately.” Local unions at the EPA withdrew from the agency’s cooperative National Partnership Council to protest Johnson’s pattern of ignoring agency scientists. The unions have not officially endorsed O’Grady’s call for Johnson’s resignation, but “are not far behind,” according to one union representative.
Chantix Report Raises Doubt on AHRQ’s Tobacco Guidelines
The anti-smoking drug Chantix has been linked to depression and suicide, and hundreds of patients taking Pfizer’s medication have suffered from heart trouble, blurred vision, dizziness, and loss of consciousness, according to a new study from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) and Wake Forest University. Yet the Clinical Practice Guideline for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence released earlier this month by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality written by a panel with numerous industry ties recommended a number of smoking cessation products, including Chantix, as effective and safe options for nearly all smokers trying to quit. The 24-member panel included nine members with financial ties to pharmaceutical corporations, three of whom who worked on smoking cessation products, according to whyquit.com. The organization promotes non-pharmacological approaches to quitting smoking.
University Accepts Strings-Attached Tobacco Grants
Taxpayer-supported Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond has signed research contracts with tobacco giant Philip Morris USA that restrict academic freedoms, the New York Times reported. Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group, is also sponsor of a $300 million research center connected to the university. The research contract, signed in 2006, stipulates that professors cannot publish or speak about results of studies without the cigarette company’s permission. And if university officials are asked about the contract by news organizations or other third parties, they are required to decline to comment and must inform the company, the Times reported. Finally, all intellectual property from the research belongs to the company, not the university. Last year the tobacco company gave $1.3 million to the university, a portion of which was restricted by the contract.
The grants support research on pulmonary disease warning signs and limiting water pollution from tobacco leave processing, according to Rick Solana, the senior vice president for research and technology of Philip Morris. University vice president Francis L. Macrina admitted that the contract language was restrictive and violated portions of the industry-sponsored research guidelines adopted by the university. Some universities have stopped accepting grants from tobacco companies.
Hill Challenges EPA Risk Assessment Changes
A key House subcommittee last week challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s changes in its chemical risk assessment procedures, charging that giving the White House the right to review lacked transparency. The House Science Committee's investigations subcommittee also found giving the Office of Management and Budget the right to review the assessments would lead to significant delays. A new OMB Watch fact sheet on the risk assessment process found that OMB review typically adds nearly a year to the process for completing an assessment.
USDA Axes Pesticide Use Survey
The Agriculture Department last week scrapped a longstanding program that required annual reporting of pesticide use, the Contra Costa Times reports. The Agricultural Chemical Use Program, implemented in 1991 in response to the Alar scare over a compound used to accelerate ripening in apples, required pesticide users to submit information on the amounts of chemicals used on crops. The data have been used by the Environmental Protection Agency, farm workers, and environmental groups to learn where chemicals pose the greatest risk to public health and the environment. In 2003, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the EPA based on data showing high levels of the herbicide atrazine in streams inhabited by endangered species.
A USDA official expressed regret over the loss of the program, but said that the $8 million survey was targeted for elimination because the pesticide use information is available for a fee from private sources. A coalition of public interest groups says that this fee is prohibitively expensive and the proprietary data are “of substandard quality.” The groups, which consist of 45 environmental and farm worker groups, last week called the federal data “critical to sound policy decisions on pesticide use.”
Odds and Ends
A Congressional hearing on the Endangered Species Act heard retired Fish and Wildlife Service official David Parsons say that the Mexican wolf recovery process has been sabotaged by political interference. . . . Merck agreed last week to stop hiring communications firms to ghostwrite science articles as part of a $58 million settlement with states for deceptive advertising for the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx. . . . The U.S. chief of United Kingdom-based GlaxoSmithKline threatened the Massachusetts governor, house speaker and senate president that it would divert business from the state if legislation banning drug industry gifts to doctors is passed.
Cheers and Jeers