EPA Statement on Unwarranted Subpoena from the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received an unnecessary and unwarranted subpoena from Chairwoman Johnson of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in response to the agency’s good faith efforts to provide the Chairwoman with the information requested by the Committee.
EPA has received numerous requests from the House Science Committee for documents, witnesses to attend hearings, staff briefings, and other information related to the agency’s IRIS program. The agency has complied with these requests. In fact, just this week EPA provided the most senior leader of the Office of Research and Development to testify before the Committee where the agency again committed to further briefings. Over the course of the past year, EPA has provided witnesses to testify before the Committee on three separate occasions, responded to at least five extensive document requests, and produced more than 4,000 pages of responsive information. In response to their latest request on October 29, EPA offered the Deputy Assistant Administrator of ORD for a briefing with the Committee, an in camera review of sensitive and deliberative agency documents, and is committed to determining if there are responsive documents meeting the requirements of the Committee’s new request.
In July, Administrator Wheeler met with Chairwoman Johnson and willingly discussed many of the Committee’s ongoing issues, including the Administrator’s efforts to improve the IRIS program. Additionally, the Administrator made himself available to answer questions on these issues and others during the hearing before the Committee in September.
EPA has been entirely transparent in producing the specific documents and information to Chairwoman Johnson in response to the issues raised in letters, questions during testimony, and numerous conversations with Committee staff. To accuse the agency of anything less is completely false. The action taken today would cause any reasonable person to believe that Chairwoman Johnson does not know how to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Instead, it appears that the Chairwoman is more interested in pursuing a political attack on the agency and the Trump Administration, rather than actually working in good faith to obtain information from EPA.
The Committee’s action is reckless and unjustified and threatens the well-established norms for accommodating the legislative branch. This is evident by their failure to even respond to our repeated accommodations offered in our November 5, and November 14 letter. Unfortunately, the Chairwoman has elected to engage with the agency through a legal process instead of the collaborative relationship that the agency has maintained with the Committee in the past. EPA continues to be committed to working with the Committee to resolve these issues in a reasonable and responsible manner.
Please see the timeline of actions by EPA to comply with the House Science Committee’s numerous requests:
EPA Engagement with House Science
Letters from House Science
- Letters Received – 11 (response(s) provided to all – over 4,000 pages)
- February 6, 2019 – Shutdown Impacts (1 response – 44 pages produced)
- March 4, 2019 – Formaldehyde-IRIS (5 responses – 2,706 pages produced)
- April 3, 2019 – Follow Up
- July 18, 2019 – Detailed Follow Up
- October 29, 2019 – Transcribed Interview Request and Subpoena Threat
- March 6, 2019 – Hurricane Harvey (6 responses – 1,521 pages produced)
- April 10, 2019 – Follow Up
- June 26, 2019 – Detailed Follow Up
- May 15, 2019 – CASAC PM Subcommittee (1 response)
- July 12, 2019 – FACA Executive Order Implementation (1 response)
- September 16, 2019 – CASAC Consultants (1 response – 4 pages provided)
House Science Hearings EPA Provided a Witness (3 hearings)
- IRIS Program/Formaldehyde (March 27th)
- EPA Witness: ORD Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta
- Administrator Wheeler (Sept. 19th)
- Science Transparency Hearing (Nov. 13th)
- EPA Witness: ORD Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta
Briefings Provided to House Science (8 briefings)
- ORD Reorganization – March 13th and October 17th
- ORD Budget – April 2nd
- CASAC/NAAQS – June 13th
- Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) – July 12th
- Lead Detection Technologies – September 25th
- Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) – September 27th
- Federal Advisory Committee Executive Order – October 21st
- CASAC Consultant Panel – Upcoming November 20th
- IRIS/TSCA – Formaldehyde – TBD
House Science Inquiry in EPA’s IRIS Program
To date, the EPA has provided multiple responsive actions to inquiries specifically regarding the IRIS program.
- On March 4, 2019, the EPA received the Committee’s initial letter regarding the IRIS program.
- On March 5, 2019, just a day later, the EPA received an official hearing invitation from the Committee stating their intention to hold a hearing on the IRIS program.
- On March 13, 2019, approximately a week after receiving the Committee’s March 4, 2019 letter, the agency provided the Committee with a briefing on the reorganization of the Office of Research and Development (ORD) by Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research and Development and Science Advisor Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta and other EPA staff.
- This briefing included a discussion about the impacts of the reorganization on the IRIS program.
- On March 27, 2019, in an effort to accommodate these multiple demands of the agency, the EPA provided ORD Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Orme-Zavaleta to provide testimony at the hearing on the IRIS program before the Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Subcommittee on Environment.
- At the hearing, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Orme-Zavaleta answered questions for an extensive amount of time on issues directly presented in the Committee’s March 4, 2019 letter and articulated the decision-making process behind the IRIS assessment prioritization.
- On April 2, 2019, the agency provided the Committee with a briefing on the fiscal year (FY) 2020 ORD budget, which included extensive discussion regarding the funding and future of the IRIS program.
- On April 3, 2019, the Committee further inquired about the IRIS program requesting a briefing on the same issues that were discussed during the March 27, 2019 hearing.
- On July 18, 2019, the Committee further inquired about the IRIS program and repeated many of the requests in their March 4, 2019 letter that were already addressed during the March 27, 2019 hearing.
- On July 19, 2019, the EPA provided a response to the Committee detailing in length the agency’s prioritization process for the IRIS program and the process for assessing formaldehydye under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) program within the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).
- With this response, the agency provided over 159 pages of information detailing an overview of the recent updates and work on the IRIS program and also two memos from Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Orme-Zavaleta—one dated August 10, 2018 soliciting requests for IRIS assessment prioritization, and another dated December 4, 2018 stating the updated priorities for IRIS assessments after the prioritization process.
- Since the July 19, 2019 response, the agency has sent three additional letters on August 2nd, August 16th, and August 30th along with enclosures containing, in total, 2,543 pages of responsive documents.
- On July 24, 2019, Administrator Wheeler personally met with Chairwoman Johnson to discuss a variety of issues.
- The agency’s IRIS program was one of those issues and the Administrator extensively detailed his desire and efforts to implement a formal, structured process for identifying IRIS priorities. The Administrator also discussed the interaction of the IRIS and TSCA programs and how some chemicals are better assessed under TSCA, which has a clear path toward a regulatory framework.
- On September 19, 2019, Administrator Wheeler testified before the Committee and answered a variety of questions on science and current issues at the agency.
- Despite multiple questions from every Committee member present, the specific issues Chairwoman Johnson raised in the Chairwoman’s October 29, 2019 letter were strangely never brought up to Administrator Wheeler.
- On October 17, 2019, the agency provided a follow up briefing to Committee staff on the ORD reorganization.
- On October 29, 2019, the EPA received the Chairwoman’s follow up letter regarding the their allegations that the agency has not been responsive to the Committee’s requests on the IRIS program.
- Within this letter, the Chairwoman additionally requested any and all materials compiled and work products prepared by the EPA Scientific Integrity Official pertaining to the Committee’s March 4, 2019 request to Dr. Francesca Grifo, the agency’s Scientific Integrity Official—a request that the Committee has never made before.
- On November 5, 2019, the agency provided the Chairwoman a response to her October 29, 2019 letter laying out the agency’s extensive engagement with the Committee and previous responses on the IRIS program.
- The agency also noted concern with the Committee’s threat to issue subpoenas for certain information and that it is well outside the bounds of any typical accommodations process. Of particular concern is the Committee’s intention to demand documents and information that have never been requested before.
- With this response, the agency offered a briefing on the EPA’s actions in implementing a formal, structured process for identifying IRIS program priorities annually, in addition to the process for assessing formaldehydye under the TSCA program.
- The agency also provided a September 9, 2019 memorandum from ORD Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Orme-Zavaleta sent out to all Assistant Administrators and Deputies initiating ORD’s annual solicitation for input on program office priorities for development of future IRIS program assessments.
Committee’s Incorrect Claims of Non-Responsiveness on the IRIS Program Requests
Despite the Committee’s claims, the agency strongly believes that the over 2,500 pages of responsive document productions, in addition to providing multiple senior agency officials to testify at hearings and provide briefings, and numerous letter responses, demonstrates that the agency has been responsive to the Committee’s request. In the Committee’s initial March 4, 2019 letter, the Chairwoman requested extensive materials “prepared for or obtained by Trump Administration political officials” regarding “EPA’s determination of whether and how to proceed with [the] formaldehyde health assessment.” Every document produced to the Committee to date has been responsive of this request.
The EPA has been transparent in our production of documents and information to the Committee in the issues raised in letters, questions during testimony, and numerous conversations with Committee staff. To accuse the agency of otherwise is completely false. The Committee has specifically requested an internal agency document relating to the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. The agency has determined that the document is confidential, deliberative, and should not be released beyond the agency. The agency has determined that releasing this document would have a chilling effect on internal agency deliberations, but in order to accommodate the Committee’s request for this specific information, the EPA has already offered provide the Committee the opportunity to review the document in camera.
House Science 10/29 Request into Scientific Integrity Investigation Documents:
The nature of the Chairwoman’s October 29, 2019 letter and the manner in which the Committee is threatening to issue subpoenas for certain information is concerning and well outside the bounds of any typical accommodations process. Of particular concern is the Committee’s intention to demand documents and information that has never been requested before. In their recent letter, Chairwoman Johnson specifically requested “any and all materials compiled and work products prepared by the EPA Scientific Integrity Official” pertaining to the Committee’s March 4, 2019 request to Dr. Francesca Grifo, the agency’s Scientific Integrity Official. Chairwoman Johnson requested these materials be produced to the Committee by November 5, 2019—just one week after the agency received this request. Besides the Committee’s initial March 4, 2019 request to Dr. Francesca Grifo—where Chairwoman Johnson requested that Dr. Grifo to determine whether the EPA’s actions in implementing a formal, structured process for identifying IRIS priorities violated the agency’s scientific integrity policy—Chairwoman Johnson and Committee staff have neither mentioned nor requested these materials in any formal or informal communications with the agency. It is concerning that the Committee would act in this threatening manner regarding a request that is brand new. Given that this was a brand-new request, the agency detailed that it would determine how best to accommodate the Committee’s interest in this information. It is the agency’s position that it would be unreasonable for the Committee to compel these documents without allowing the agency to begin this process.