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EPA Emails Show Due Diligence, SST Minority Email Shows Politically Motivated Agenda

Jun 27, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SST) Committee released the following statement upon reviewing all documents and official correspondence surrounding Dr. Deborah L. Swackhamer’s testimony before the committee on May 23 in the Environment Subcommittee Hearing, Expanding the Role of States in EPA Rulemaking.  The Chairman has reviewed the email exchange between Swackhamer and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson in addition to the letters sent by the SST Minority to EPA Administrator Pruitt and EPA Inspector General Arthur J. Elkins.

“The truth has come out that EPA was pursuing a course of due diligence and ensuring that information provided in witness testimony before Congress was accurate and without factual error.  It’s unfortunate that the Minority has tried to hijack committee hearings for their own politically motivated agenda. It is clear that the Minority invited Dr. Swackhamer to testify because she was a member of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, despite protestations from the Minority that she was testifying only in her ‘personal capacity.’ The American people are smart enough to see past the Minority’s highly politicized tactics. In a move to support full transparency, the emails we have obtained can now be viewed by the American public who will see that the Minority’s claims are baseless.”

Background:

At the Subcommittee on Environment hearing entitled Expanding the Role of States in EPA Rulemaking, the Subcommittee sought testimony from state environmental protection officials regarding the role that states play in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rulemaking and how the states and EPA could work together to pursue common goals.  The Minority invited retired University of Minnesota professor Deborah Swackhamer to testify at this hearing.

Coincidentally, Swackhamer currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) at EPA.  In the weeks prior the hearing, Swackhamer made statements to the press critical of EPA Administrator Pruitt’s decision to evaluate the current membership of the BOSC.  On May 17, less than a week before the hearing, and after Swackhamer’s statements to the press, the Minority informed the Committee of its intention to invite her as a witness.

The Minority and Swackhamer contend that the testimony she provided to the Committee was done so solely in her personal capacity and not as the Chair of the BOSC.  However, documents obtained by the Committee, as well as the opening statement of Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) at the May 23 hearing, demonstrate that the true intent of this testimony was to criticize Administrator Pruitt’s evaluation of the BOSC rather than discuss state involvement of EPA rulemaking. 

On May 19, the Committee received an email from the staff of Science Committee Minority Member Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) inquiring about Beyer’s participation in the hearing even though he is a not a member of the Environment Subcommittee.  The subject line of this email referred to the hearing as “FW: ** Tuesday Subcommittee Hearing about EPA Science Board **.” The Minority’s characterization of the hearing as “about the EPA Science Board” demonstrates that it was the Minority’s intent to have Swackhamer testify to discuss the matters pertaining to the BOSC, rather than the stated purpose of the hearing to discuss state involvement in EPA rulemaking.

Furthermore, Ranking Member Johnson made clear the intent of Swackhamer’s testimony in her opening statement, “The decision by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt earlier this month to not renew nine of the 18 members of the Agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) is just the latest example of this Administration’s efforts to silence scientists,” and goes on to say, “We are fortunate that Dr. Deborah Swackhamer is here today to provide us with her perspective on these unfortunate events. Dr. Swackhamer, a Professor Emerita of Science, Technology, and Public Policy as well as a Professor Emerita of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Minnesota brings a wealth of scientific expertise to the table. She is also the current Chair of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors and the former Chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Although she is testifying today in her personal capacity as a scientific expert and not representing any of the EPA’s science advisory boards, I am glad she has decided not to stay silent.”

On June 26, Ranking Member Johnson and Members of the Minority sent a letter to EPA Administratior Scott Pruitt and EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins accusing Ryan Jackson, the EPA Chief of Staff, of attempting to interfere with the testimony of Swackhamer before the Environment Subcommittee.  The Minority contends that an email sent by Jackson to Swackhamer regarding her testimony before the Subcommittee was inappropriate and an attempt to “shape her testimony.”

Upon review of the email communications referenced in the Minority’s June 26 letter as the basis for its accusations, it is clear that Swackhamer failed to adhere to EPA processes for reviewing testimony and that Jackson sought to merely clarify a section of the testimony that would be provided to the Committee. 

The email communications indicate the following: Swackhamer failed to adhere to established review practices set forth for testimony provided by EPA-affiliated witnesses when testifying before Congressional Committees, including submitting this testimony for review by the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations and the Office of General Counsel.  Jackson attempted to discuss Swackhamer’s testimony with her on the telephone, but was unable to reach her, thus prompting further email communications.  Jackson sought only to clarify a point in Swackahmer’s testimony regarding Administrator Pruitt’s decision to evaluate the BOSC membership and did not use threatening or intimidating language in his communications as you can read in the linked exchange below.  Career EPA attorney and acting General Counsel Kevin Minoli was copied on all of the email communications sent to Swackhamer pertaining to this matter.

The full email exchange between Jackson and Swackhamer, can be viewed here

The SST Minority email from a member of Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.)’s staff that internally refers to the hearing as the “Tuesday Subcommittee Hearing about EPA Science Board” can be viewed here.

The opening statement of Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) can be viewed here.

The written testimony of Dr. Deborah L. Swackhamer can be viewed here.

 

115th Congress