EPA Leaders Continue to Misrepresent the Nitrate Study Peer Review

  • August 9, 2019

Chris Hladick

Should federal agency leaders be held accountable for blatant misrepresentation of the facts? (Some call this lying.) Below you will see three documents related to the 2012-2013 Yakima Nitrate Report. These are about the peer review and they conclusively settle the current argument with the Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick.

Save Family Farming, Rep. Dan Newhouse, numerous scientists and others all claim that the peer review done for this critically important study was inadequate. In fact, a sham. The study, as the “Peer Review Plan” document shows, was designated “influential.” This was in 2012 as the study was nearing completion and the conclusions were being established. What does “influential science information” mean? This explains the federal policy regarding science information produced by government agencies including the kind of peer review required:

OMB’s peer review bulletin requires that US federal regulatory agencies submit all “influential scientific information” to peer review before the information is publicly disseminated. The Bulletin defines “scientific information” as:

factual inputs, data, models, analyses, technical information, or scientific assessments related to such disciplines as the behavioral and social sciences, public health and medical sciences, life and earth sciences, engineering, or physical sciences.

This Bulletin defines “influential scientific information” as

scientific information the agency reasonably can determine will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or private sector decisions. In the term ‘influential scientific information,’ the term ‘influential’ should be interpreted consistently with OMB’s government-wide information quality guidelines[1] and the information quality guidelines of the agency.

Note in the “Peer Review Plan” that “External Peer Review Mechanism” says that “Independent Experts” are to be used in conducting a peer review. So, the question is: did the EPA meet the conditions of federal policy for peer review of this study?

After the report was initially published in 2012, numerous scientists who reviewed it independently (ie., they were not asked to do so by the EPA), many commented that the peer review was inadequate. Page 35 of EPA’s “Responsiveness Summary” is published below. First of all, it recognizes that the study was designated “influential.” It defends its peer review by saying they used two internal EPA reviewers and two external reviewers, one from the USGS and one from the USDA. The USDA reviewer was Dr. David Tarkalson of the Agriculture Research Service in Kimberly, Idaho – widely recognized as one of the top agricultural scientists in the country if not the world. But, when the 2012 study came out, Dr. Tarkalson asked his name be removed as a reviewer. Why? The third document makes it clear: he was not given opportunity to review the entire study and conclusions. He and the other reviewers were given a portion of the study with the most critical data about manure lagoons removed. Further, they were given one page of conclusions when the final report had four pages of conclusions. Dr. Tarkalson at least had the integrity to ask he be removed as a reviewer based on the attempt to manipulate him and other reviewers into approving a science study the EPA leaders knew was unsupportable. (Recent release of Freedom of Information Act documents shows the information provided by the scientists was seriously edited and modified by Edward Kowalski, chief of enforcement and compliance, and Jennifer McDonald, an EPA lawyer charged with enforcement.)

Assume for a moment you are a judge and are asked the question: did the EPA peer review of this study meet federal policies for “influential science information.” Two EPA reviewers who gave very brief perfunctory responses, one USGS reviewer who also had criticisms of the study. Does this constitute a “thorough and complete” peer review as Eric Winiecki, the EPA Region 10’s project manager on this project said to Administrator Hladick in the presence of a group of farmers and farm leaders? We think not. We think he lied to the Administrator about it. And we called him on it.

Then, the story gets very interesting. A follow up meeting with farmers was set for February 27. Mr. Kowalski tried at the last minute to call it off, despite the fact that the directors of Washington, Oregon and Idaho dairy associations had flown in for the meeting. Mr. Kowalski explained that Mr. Winiecki was ill and couldn’t attend. Kowalski then shocked the seven of us representing farmers by announcing the nitrate study was classified as “other,” not “influential,” and that meant the EPA didn’t have to do any peer review. Wait a minute! How can they go from claiming “thorough and complete” peer review one day, then the next day so no real peer review was required. And, is it true that it was designated “other”?

We asked them, then Administrator Hladick to show us the proof, and we showed them the documents that showed it was “influential” all along. They refused to provide proof, and when a reporter asked for the proof they stated they couldn’t provide it since Save Family Farming had submitted this to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation.

One might think that in the face of overwhelming evidence, the EPA Administrator would not back his longtime staff who, admittedly, have a lot to lose if caught in lying and modifying official records. But, in a July 19 letter to Save Family Farming, the Administrator clings to the disproven claim that the study was designated “other.” While he on the one hand claims by this that no real peer review was needed, on the other hand he or his staff told a Seattle TV reporter that the study had been peer reviewed.

Farmers are disturbed by this, because EPA’s dishonesty, lack of integrity and likely criminal behavior is costing us many of our family farms, as well as millions in additional costs farmers can’t easily bear. But every citizen needs to be disturbed as well. If federal officials are allowed to get by with lying, with changing official records, with misrepresenting science information, how can anyone trust our government?

We encourage you to check out the facts yourself, and then, please stand with our farmers and let the EPA leaders know how you feel about this. Go to https://savefamilyfarming.org/blog/help-us-send-a-message-to-epa-we-want-the-truth/ for information on how you can send a message.

PEER(1)

PEER Review Plan
Response Summary p35 influential
Dr. Tarkalson letter