Thursday, January 7, 2010

FIRESIDE CHAT: Hudson River PCB Dredging: The Case of the Exchanged Draft Reports

Here I comment on a narrow issue: the soon-to-occur exchange of GE and EPA draft reports evaluating Phase I of the Hudson River PCB dredging project. These reports should NOT be exchanged in draft form. These drafts should represent the independent viewpoints of GE and EPA. These viewpoints are the product of each side's experience, including abundant and intense communications with one another. Nonetheless, viewpoints are bound to differ. The public will be best served by these viewpoints being expressed independently, not with prior review and possible communication potentially to alter critical features of each side's report, or of either side's report.

Many actions by the U.S. Government including its agencies, and specifically including EPA, have been construed as interfering with technical analysis toward achieving political goals. So, the argument that "little is likely to change" as a result of the exchange of draft reports is entirely irrelevant to the issue of whether such an exchange is proper, or whether it should be permitted. It is irrelevant because the exchange would have been improper even if nothing at all changed in either GE's or EPA's report, because the exchange in itself creates the appearance that independence has been compromised, or might have been compromised. The more extreme statement that "little is likely to change," as opposed to "nothing is likely to change," is worse, because "little" change can include even a one-word change that drastically alters the meaning of the document. I cite this possibility from actual history of an EPA report in recent years, not from having a paranoid imagination.

I formally made the above comment to EPA on 7 January, so appropriate parties should see it and have the opportunity and good common sense to act on this concern in a timely manner, which I understand is in the next few days, when the document exchange is anticipated to occur.

Copyright © 2009 by The Center for Health Risk Assessment and Management, a Division of RAM TRAC Corporation