Public Citizen Opposes Nomination of Regulatory Gatekeeper

May 21, 2001
An industry ally who has a long record of crusading against health, safety and environmental standards, should not be approved by the Senate to the country's top regulatory oversight position, according to Public Citizen.

John Graham, an industry ally who has a long record of crusading against health, safety and environmental standards, should not be approved by the Senate to the country's top regulatory oversight position, Public Citizen told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last week in written testimony.

Public Citizen submitted written testimony because the committee refused to let any witnesses other than Graham testify -- a violation of its obligation to air opposing points of view, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said.

Others who requested to testify and were denied the opportunity include Frank Mirer of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); Dr. Eric Chivian of Harvard Medical School, who shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize; Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Dr. Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The committee also refused to let Public Citizen view information submitted to the committee by Graham, although the committee allowed reporters to view it.

Graham, who runs the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, has been nominated by President Bush to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The post requires Senate confirmation. The office reviews federal safeguards on industrial chemicals, fuel economy standards, air and water pollution levels, tobacco regulation and virtually every other issue that is critical to human and environmental health.

The administrator can serve as the ultimate chokepoint and can slow, stall, weaken or stop regulatory proposals.

According to Public Citizen, Graham's center receives funding from 100 major industrial corporations and trade associations, including oil, energy, chemical, agribusiness, mining and auto interests.

Industry funders have seen their positions reflected in the center's research, in Graham's work and in his statements to the media and testimony to Congress, Public Citizen said.

At Harvard, Graham has lent academic legitimacy to regulated industries' opposition to environmental, health and safety standards, said Claybrook.

She said one of Graham's first moves at OIRA likely would be to draft a new executive order that could place national safeguards at risk by limiting the issuance of new health, safety and environmental safeguards.

"John Graham is unfit to serve as the administrator of OIRA because of the many conflicts of interest that would plague his service," Claybrook said. "An unaccountable OIRA will be able to overturn years of investment in protective

health, safety and environmental safeguards by the public, stakeholders, scientific experts and the agencies. His appointment would give regulated industries a wide-open back door to the White House."

The groups have three key objections to Graham's appointment:

  • First, he has deep ties to the regulated industries his decisions would affect. For instance, high-ranking industry executives serve on the Center's executive board and advisory council.
  • Second, Graham's research and advocacy have serviced his industry funders. Public Citizen said, in letters sent earlier this month to the committee, 79 academics including department chairs and medical doctors raised concerns that Graham's research has downplayed hazards faced by the public and triggered conflict-of-interest concerns.
  • Third, Graham has made extensive use of faulty methodologies, according to the groups. If confirmed, the groups expect that Graham would rely heavily on highly disputed and easily manipulable cost-benefit calculations used to determine when particular regulations are warranted.

But there are numerous problems with those methods in the regulatory context, said Public Citizen.

"The costs are highly exaggerated by industry and are rarely scrutinized by government agencies," said Public Citizen. "Further, benefit data are hard to document, and the practice of quantifying the value of a life is questionable.

"It already takes decades to set a new OSHA standard," said Alan Reuther, UAW legislative director. "We are concerned that, with Mr. Graham as head of OIRA, public health and safety regulations will be further delayed, protections on the books now will be jeopardized, and the interests of workers and consumers will not be given adequate weight."

Others in the labor, environmental and public health fields are also concerned about Graham's nomination.

"Dr. Graham's track record does not demonstrate the sort of objectivity and dispassionate analysis that we should expect from the next OIRA administrator," said Gary Bass, executive director of the regulatory watchdog group, OMB Watch. "He has demonstrated a consistent hostility to health, safety and environmental protection."

Wesley Warren, senior fellow of environmental economics at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Our analysis of his record leads us to the unmistakable conclusion that John Graham's appointment as the nation's regulatory gatekeeper poses too high a risk for public health and the environment."

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario, added, "John Graham is the wrong choice to serve as the nation's chief reviewer and gatekeeper of safety, health and environmental regulations. He cares more about the cost of

regulations than the need to protect workers and the public from serious hazards. If his views were the nation's policy, there would be no real protections from workplace hazards like cotton dust, benzene and arsenic, where the cost of controls is immediate but the benefits are long term."

In a letter to committee chair Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., 30 top medical and public health academics including seven from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, which houses Graham's Center, wrote,

"It is a cardinal rule of scientific research to avoid at all costs any conflict of interest that could influence the objectivity of one's findings ... For more than a decade, John Graham ... has violated this rule."

Edited by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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