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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The De-Bushification of Regulations

Air Date: Week of

Dr. Lynn Goldman is a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

For eight years, industry and lobbyists have had a strong voice in crafting environmental and food regulations. John Hopkins University Professor Lynn Goldman tells Living on Earth’s Jeff Young she’s optimistic that an Obama administration will make decisions based on science rather than politics.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

YOUNG: And I’m Jeff Young. What will the election mean for the safety of our food, our medicine and the products we buy?

For years we’ve been reporting on the Bush administration’s approach to safety and health regulation, and for years we’ve heard charges that enforcement was weakened and science undermined.

One of Washington’s top watchdogs, the GAO – the Government Accountability office, said political appointees influenced scientific assessments of hazardous chemicals at the Environmental Protection Agency: here’s John Stephenson, director of Natural Resources and the Environment at the GAO.

STEPHENSON: They’re getting involved in the science portion, the early assessment of chemicals. They should not be muddling in the front part, in the science.

YOUNG: And scientists accuse the Food and Drug Administration of using industry-friendly studies to evaluate the safety of a chemical found in baby bottles. Beth Jordan is medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

JORDAN: The FDA’s current draft assessment concludes that BPA is safe. This conclusion is based on two studies, both of which are funded by institutions that have a financial stake in the outcome of the FDA’s decision.

YOUNG: On and on it went. Industry lawyers held key government positions. Agencies ignored their own science advisors, and industry lobbyists sometimes wrote new regulations. President-elect Obama promises change, but what will it take to really change these important regulatory agencies after eight years of Bush Administration control? Well, Doctor Lynn Goldman has some thoughts on that. She’s a pediatrician who’s served in the EPA as an assistant administrator for toxic substances during the Clinton administration. And she’s now a professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore where she joins us now. Dr. Goldman, welcome to the program.

GOLDMAN: Hi Jeff, it’s nice to talk to you.

YOUNG: Dr. Goldman, what is the most important thing for the new president to do with these regulatory agencies?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think that in a nut shell the most important thing is that the new president would bring in people who could restore the integrity of the regulatory processes in the federal government. I would hope for people who would have a very fundamental respect for the law and a respect for the science and incorporation of the science in the rulemaking process. Some of the concerns about the meddling with the science has been directed not at political appointees, but at the career scientists, the experts who dedicate their lives to providing science and serving the public and in many, many instances they’ve been constrained to be able to communicate honestly.

Dr. Lynn Goldman is a professor at John Hopkins University.

YOUNG: Well that is certainly on the minds of our listeners. Rod Roderick - he’s one of our listeners from Michigan City, Indiana – he left this comment for us.

RODRICK: My advice to the next president would be to have his key people, the one’s he’s gonna put at cabinet levels, to listen to the senior civil servants in those departments, EPA, whatever. Listen to what they have to say. Obviously they’re gonna get to hear what the lobbyist have to say. They’re paid a lot of money to get the corporate point of view in the door, but I think sometimes that people just don’t listen to the real knowledgeable people who spent twenty, thirty years on the job.

YOUNG: Is there a particular item that you think stands out as something that should be at the top of the list, that absolutely must be corrected, taken care of, right out of the gate.

GOLDMAN: We have seen very, very risky circumstances over the last couple of years with issues such as melamine in pet food and now in infant formula in China and maybe in the food supply in the U.S., food safety issues such as the salmonella epidemic that we had last summer that have been dealt with in a very ineffective process, in my view. And I think that this is going to be very important for the new administration to address. There’s been a lot of effort to promote free trade, which has probably been a good thing in terms of international relations and probably overall good in terms of the economy, but there have not been adequate protections in terms of making sure that those goods and commerce are safe. Europe has moved forward with legislation that’s a lot more rational. There was a time when we were well ahead of them in terms of safety of our products, but at this point in time that’s not the case.

YOUNG: What’s your feeling – are we headed toward a system that’s gonna make our children, our products, our medicine, our food a little safer?

GOLDMAN: I do feel optimistic about that, absolutely. Too often when we talk about these issues of regulations and safety, it’s as if we’re all in conflict about this and it’s industry versus environment, or it’s job versus the economy, and that is not a way that produces productive results. I think we have a new administration that can bring people together to find approaches to make things safer and I do feel very optimistic about that.

YOUNG: On that hopeful note, Dr. Lynn Goldman, Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, thank you very much for joining us.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.



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