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January 27, 1998

Politics Masquerading As Science

EPA's tobacco smokescreens

I'm not a smoker, but I tend to lean toward the side of persecuted groups -- especially when they provide excuses for the morally righteous to vent their spite and spleen on what society has delivered as defenseless victims. (As a matter of fact, I was a fairly heavy smoker for over twenty years until the early eighties but hit upon a cost-free and painless way to quit. Details for anyone who is interested.)

Below is another example of how the public's perceptions are manipulated. It's an extract from the preliminary statement to a report to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce entitled EPA AND ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE: SCIENCE OR POLITICS? prepared in 1993. Comment by me is unnecessary since the content is self-explanatory.

The full text runs to around 17,000 words (around 40 pages) and is available on http://www.pipes.org/Articles/Bliley.html


HOUSE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE
HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT SUBCOMMITTEE
STATEMENT OF HON. THOMAS J. BLILEY, JR.
JULY 21, 1993

Mr. Chairman, I am testifying today in order to report to the Subcommittee the results of my extensive investigation of the EPA's handling of the controversy surrounding environmental tobacco smoke or "ETS". As you know, in the past the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of this Committee has conducted hearings on EPA's abuses of government contracting requirements. So pervasive is the level of abuse that Chairman Dingell has characterized EPA's pattern of contract mismanagement as a "cesspool". EPA's Inspector General recently has confirmed that such abuses also have taken place in connection with a number of EPA contracts involving ETS, and the O and I Subcommittee's own investigation is continuing.

In addition to various contractual improprieties, however, my own investigation suggests that in its consideration of ETS, the Agency has deliberately abused and manipulated the scientific data in order to reach a predetermined, politically motivated result.

[Snip]

EPA's willingness to distort the science in order to justify its classification of ETS as a "Group A" or "known human" carcinogen seems to stem from the Agency's determination early on to advocate smoking bans and restrictions as a socially desirable goal. EPA began promoting such policies in the mid-to late 1980s, ostensibly as part of its efforts to provide information to the public on indoor air quality issues. The Agency then decided to develop the ETS risk assessment to provide a scientific justification for smoking bans. The risk assessment thus was never intended to be a neutral review and analysis of the ETS science. Rather, it was intended from the start to function as a prop for the Agency's predetermined policy.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the process at every turn has been characterized by both scientific and procedural irregularities. In addition to the contracting violations mentioned at the outset, those irregularities include conflicts of interest by both Agency staff involved in preparation of the risk assessment and the members of the Science Advisory Board panel selected to provide a supposedly independent evaluation of the document.

[Snip]

The ETS risk assessment is far from an isolated example of EPA's approach to the use of science in policy making. The Agency's propensity to scare the public first and ask scientific questions later is both notorious and well-documented. Alar, dioxin and the removal of asbestos from schools are other examples.

[Snip]

Unfortunately, in the case of ETS there appears to have been a conscious misuse of science and the scientific process to achieve a political agenda that could not otherwise be justified.

EPA betrays its own lack of confidence in its tortured statistics by refusing to incorporate the results of the ETS-lung cancer study by Brownson and coworkers. [Snip] The study reported no significant association between ETS and lung cancer among nonsmokers in spousal or work settings or from childhood. Even using the highly questionable statistical methods adopted by EPA in the ETS risk assessment, inclusion of the Brownson study would show no significant risk of lung cancer from exposure to ETS.

Evidently, publication of the Brownson study caused no small degree of consternation at EPA. In order to avoid incorporation of the Brownson study's results into the risk assessment and invalidating EPA's claim that the epidemiology shows a significant risk, EPA rushed to issue the final report in early January. Mr. Chairman, given this sort of behavior, in my judgment we must be very cautious about allowing scientific pronouncements from EPA to drive public policy decisions.

 
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