On Monday, OMB Director Peter Orszag sent a letter to Rep. Ed Markey, responding to Congressman Markey’s concerns about OMB’s involvement in EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. Orszag’s letter — released by Markey's office Wednesday — explains, in no uncertain terms, that OMB is done meddling in EPA’s scientific determinations about endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It’s a step in the right direction for Orszag and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein, who have their work cut out for them if they are going to — I hope — work to halt OMB’s historical penchant for interfering in EPA’s work.
Congressman Markey’s concerns about OMB involvement in the EDSP were stoked by the same events that prompted the letter that CPR Board Member Robert Glicksman and I sent to Mr. Sunstein and his colleague Dr. John Holdren of the OSTP. We saw a trail of documents suggesting that OMB was pressuring EPA to revise the procedures through which it would allow pesticide manufacturers to avoid EPA orders to test their products for potential endocrine-disrupting effects. (See CPR Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz’s October 20 post for details.)
In his letter to Rep. Markey, Mr. Orszag wisely avoided delving into the scientific underpinnings of the EDSP. And in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection on Tuesday, EPA’s Steve Owens testified that, after numerous conversations with Mr. Sunstein, it is his understanding that OMB’s terms of clearance for the EDSP Paperwork Reduction Act Information Collection Request “in no way” limits EPA’s discretion under the program.
OMB’s course correction on this issue is great news for scientific integrity. Unfortunately, it cannot undo the mistakes of the past – in particular, the Bush-era changes to the EDSP that opened the floodgates for industry to claim that their old test data are adequate to replace a full battery of new tests that EPA would prefer that they undertake. EPA’s procedures for dealing with “Other Scientifically Relevant Information” aren’t perfect, but the past is behind us, and the future is looking up.