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Top EPA Scientific Integrity Official Not Allowed To Testify At House Hearing


On Capitol Hill today, a House committee held a hearing to discuss a proposal that would protect federal scientists from political interference. And NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports the top scientific integrity official from the Environmental Protection Agency was not allowed to testify.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Since Donald Trump took office, there have been a lot of complaints from scientists that scientists who work for the federal government can't express themselves freely. The proposed legislation would make it harder for the White House or political appointees at federal agencies to withhold data from scientific studies or bar scientists from discussing their findings. It would give legal teeth to less binding agency rules, like those of the National Institutes of Health and the Interior Department. In fact, one of the things that came up over and over at today's hearing is how there's one agency that's setting a particularly good example with its rules - the EPA.

PAUL TONKO: They are usually highlighted as one of the best agencies, if not the best, with their scientific integrity panel.

HERSHER: That's New York Democrat Paul Tonko, one of the bill's co-sponsors. The EPA's pretty good track record - at least compared to other agencies - clearly made it all the more frustrating to Democrats leading the hearing that the top EPA official who works on these issues, Francesca Grifo, wasn't there. As Michigan Democrat Haley Stevens put it...

HALEY STEVENS: Her perspective would've been invaluable here today. Unfortunately, the EPA refused to allow Ms. Grifo to testify.

HERSHER: The EPA did offer Grifo's boss, who the committee had not invited. In a statement, EPA spokesperson Michael Abboud wrote to NPR, the House Democrats' assertions on this matter are inaccurate. The EPA was invited to this hearing, and we immediately offered the agency's top career science official within the Office of Research and Development. He accused House committee members of, quote, "dictating to the agency who they believe was qualified to speak." Those who did testify at the hearing discussed, among other things, the importance of allowing federal scientists and other employees decide for themselves when to talk about their research and expertise without worrying about political fallout.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.