A governmental agency is playing footsy with industry and stalling environmental and health initiatives, US activists allege. As of now the industry has managed to stall the release of information on some cancer-causing chemicals.
The anger of the activists is focused on the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE) which is supposed to keep track of the regulatory authorities and see whether they comply with the laws of the land.
But it is only promoting the industry interests, it has often been charged. In his book The Republican War on Science, Chris C Mooney said the CRE was only a front organisation for the industries that seek to undermine the regulatory process itself.
Now in a study of the National Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program, OMB Watch, a Washington-based policy-research group, reports that industry is frustrating the work of government researchers with petitions that are light on science but heavy with accusations of anti-business "bias."
Public interest advocates warn that corporations are co-opting the federal Data Quality Act to paralyze scientists with frivolous allegations of inaccuracy.
In 2000, Congress passed the Data Quality Act mandating that government agencies uphold "the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information" they disseminate.
That's a laudable principle, critics say, but the corporate-friendly Bush administration is promoting exploitation of the law.
In fiscal years 2003 and 2004, for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Health and Human Services and other federal bodies fielded 80 "substantive" Data Quality Act requests for corrections, more than half of which came from industry, according to the Government Accountability Office. The resulting bureaucratic review process could take as long as two years.
OMB Watch focused on the National Toxicology Program's biennial "Report on Carcinogens," which describes 1,700 substances linked to genetic mutations or cancer. Rigorously reviewed by toxicology experts, the research is used by health professionals, community groups and environmental regulators. The upcoming edition has been delayed by more than a year while Health and Human Services mulls 10 data-quality complaints from industries.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, has pushed the EPA (with little success) to more tightly regulate Atrazine, a widely used pesticide.
The CRE retaliated with its petition aimed at preventing Atrazine from getting listed in the 'Report on Carcinogens' by preventing the entire report from getting issued, charges Jen Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Jim Tozzi, a Reagan era official heading the CRE, makes no bones of his industry links, though. The data is used to create costly regulations and industry pays the bill ultimately, naturally they have a stake in the DQA, he says airily.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing chemical manufacturers, tried to capitalize on the Data Quality Act in 2004 by protesting that a document used by the National Toxicology Program's scientific reviewers "wrongly characterize[d] the cancer potential" of the industrial chemical naphthalene. This could lead to "product liability claims, diminished sales ... and related commercial damage," the association claimed.
After a year and a half of review, Health and Human Services denied the petition.
OMB Watch says that because there are other, more-reasonable safeguards for vetting information, like public comments, the government should place limits on data-quality petitions so that corporations have one less avenue to influence policies and science that protect the public.