Research Joint Ventures Focus on Corporate Needs Rather Than Public Health
Washington, DC — Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is increasingly relying on corporate joint ventures in its research program, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This trend, says agency scientists, means that EPA is diverting funds from basic public health and environmental research toward applied research to address regulatory concerns of corporate funders.
Records obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act show a marked increase in “cooperative research and development agreements” (or CRADAs) with individual corporations or industry associations since the advent of the Bush Administration. During the first Bush term EPA entered into 57 corporate CRADAs, compared with 34 such agreements in during Clinton’s second term. The American Chemical Council (ACC) is now EPA’s leading research partner.
A classic example of recent EPA/corporate joint ventures is the 2004 agreement reached with the ACC to fund the now-canceled CHEERS experiment in which parents would have received payments and gifts in return for spraying pesticides and other chemicals in the rooms primarily occupied by their infant children.
“Under its current leadership, EPA is becoming an arm of corporate R & D,” stated PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose, noting that the number of corporate CRADAs under Bush outnumber those entered into with universities or local governments. “Public health research needs should not have to depend upon corporate underwriting.”
In internal agency surveys, EPA scientists maintain that corporations are influencing the agency’s research agenda through financial inducements. As one EPA scientist wrote, “Many of us in the labs feel like we work for contracts.”
The rapid growth in corporate research joint ventures occurs against the backdrop of two recent reports raising related concerns about growing corporate involvement in EPA’s research:
- In a draft report this April, EPA’s Science Advisory Board warns that the agency is no longer funding a credible public health research program. For example, EPA is falling behind on emerging issues such as intercontinental pollution transport and nanotechnology; and
- A Government Accountability Office study also released in April concluded that EPA lacks safeguards to “evaluate or manage potential conflicts of interest” in corporate research agreements.
EPA’s top research slot is currently vacant. The Bush nominee, George Gray, runs a university “Center for Risk Analysis” that relies almost entirely upon corporate grants.