Originally published in Science, June 23, 2017
As Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and former President and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, I am writing to express my alarm at the recent firing of science advisory board members at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the stated intent of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to replace them with advocates from the industries EPA is tasked with regulating (1). This action signals a dramatic shift that would put vocal, well-funded political and special interests ahead of independent publicly funded science, with far-reaching consequences for our national defense, public health, national economy, and other public policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans.
World leaders are now speaking directly to America’s scientists and engineers, a sign that America’s global leadership in science and innovation may be weakening (M. Enserink, “Climate scientists wary of Trump: Please come to France, says presidential hopeful,” Science Insider, 10 February 2017). This is not the first time science has been marginalized in the United States, but each time it finds a way to return and flourish.
If we want publicly funded science to be free, independent, and reliable, federal science offices must be able to protect themselves from political and industry pressures when they arise. In April, I addressed thousands of scientists and supporters at the March for Science in Albany, New York. I spoke about H.R. 1358, the Scientific Integrity Act. This bill would require science watchdogs in every federal agency involved in scientific research. It has 126 co-sponsors in the House to-date with a companion bill in the Senate, S. 338. Our next step for this critical science-friendly legislation is to build enough public awareness and support to convince Congressional leaders to “markup” and advance the bill out of committee.
This issue is not partisan; presidents and political leaders have attempted, on numerous occasions spanning centuries, to influence government-backed scientific findings. When they are successful, the result is often the same: public policy that does not reflect the best interests of the American people. That is why I have joined with more than 120 of my colleagues in Congress to push for scientific integrity in our government. I hope that Science readers will join our efforts to speak out for the belief that independent science still can, and should, shape our future.
Paul D. Tonko
Member of Congress serving the 20th District of New York,
Washington, DC 20515, USA.
1. S. Waldman, “Agency fires science advisers” E&E News (2017); www.eenews.net/stories/1060054154.