White House tells Rep. Markey it won’t interfere with independent EPA testing

The White House has assured a senior House Democrat it won't interfere with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing of harmful chemicals.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) expressed concerns last month when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urged the EPA to use test data compiled by private chemical companies when judging whether pesticides and other household products could disrupt the human endocrine system, which controls hormones. Markey warned that the OMB decision could put public health at risk. Markey argued that EPA should be allowed to use its own, independent data instead of relying on information from chemical companies.

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White House Budget Director Peter Orszag told Markey in a letter last week that he agreed and said the EPA's independent approach to testing possible endocrine disruptors and scientific reviews will remain impartial.

"I share your belief that EPA must continue to have a robust endocrine testing program and I reiterate the OMB fully supports the EPA’s sole authority to make the scientific decisions related to this effort," Orszag wrote in a letter to Markey.

Orszag's letter came as a relief to Markey and science groups that had raised concerns with OMB’s policy.

"I commend the OMB’s commitment to sound science and independent regulation of endocrine disruptors by EPA to ensure that public health is appropriately protected," Markey said in a statement. "Every day, the public is potentially exposed to hundreds of dangerous chemicals, many of which can and may be contributing to the rise in obesity, thyroid disorders, infertility and certain types of cancers."

Markey and Democrats have carefully watched to see if the White House interferes with decisions that they believe should be made by scientists. Markey harshly criticized a decision last year by President George W. Bush's administration to ignore an EPA finding that greenhouse gas emissions likely endangered public health.

President Barack Obama had signaled he would avoid interfering in scientific decisions, issuing a memo in March calling for greater transparency in science policy decisions and assigning the Office of Science and Technology Policy the job of ensuring that scientific integrity wasn't breached.

"The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions," Obama said the memo, addressed to executive branch department heads. "Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions."

The Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal policy group that warned of OMB interference, said that Orszag's letter was "great news for scientific integrity."

"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, said Rena Steinzor, the group's president and a University of Maryland law professor, on her blog.