A child's biopsy shows early-stage cancer, with a high survival rate if treated in time. But his parents secretly pressure the doctor to alter the results because they don't want to pay the medical bills.
Criminal? Immoral? It's not so different from what's been happening at the Environmental Protection Agency these days. Except that the health of all of us, as well as our planet, is at stake.
Evidence has been mounting for some time of growing dangers to our environment from ozone, mercury, carcinogens, and, the most cataclysmic of all, global warming. But the EPA has been pressuring its scientists to withhold inconvenient truths, and thus the need to do something about them.
The list of alleged falsehoods and manipulations is long and outrageous. Here are some lowlights listed by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., before Senate hearings held last week:
* The EPA "falsified data and fabricated results" about the safety of the air around Ground Zero in New York City following the Sept. 11 attacks.
* The EPA edited reports on climate change, including a 2003 report on the environment, to counteract scientific data confirming the reality of global warming.
* EPA has "hidden, delayed, or suppressed" scientific findings that displeased certain industries. For example, it sat for nine months on a 2002 report on the effects of mercury on children's health -- and then released it only after it was leaked to the media.
The Bush War on Science has been overt for years now, and a survey released last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists provides more evidence of how deeply corrupt EPA has become.
In a questionnaire sent to more than 5,000 EPA scientists last summer, 889 of them -- about 60 percent of those who responded -- said they had personally experienced political pressure geared to favor government policy rather than the facts.
Government officials publicly misrepresented their findings, the scientists said. Information was used selectively to justify less-stringent regulations. Scientists were pressured to alter or exclude information from scientific documents.
Nearly 500 scientists said they fear retaliation if they express concern about what's happening within the agency.
Many also faced difficulty sharing their findings with other scientists or publishing them in scientific journals, let alone speaking out publicly to the news media.
The situation has deteriorated in recent years because the Bush administration -- as part of its claim to "unitary executive" power that trumps that of Congress and the courts -- has allowed the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make environmental regulations. Time after time, scientists say, the OMB has ignored the data to favor private industry. Congress needs to ensure that the politicization of EPA doesn't continue beyond January 2009. The first step is to re-assert its power to delegate work to federal agencies without White House interference.
Another safeguard: Include federal scientists in whistle-blower-protection legislation now in conference. If, in 1970, the government had pressured scientists to downplay the danger from unhealthy air quality, Congress might never have passed the Clean Air Act. The effect would have been catastrophic: the Union of Concerned Scientists says 200,000 more people would have died prematurely and millions more cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease would have developed over the next two decades. Oh, to again have a president with the ethical compass of Richard Nixon!
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