Follow the Money: These Industries are Funding the Attempt to Change the EPA

March 9th 2015

Donny Shaw

Members of Congress who take large sums from Monsanto and other biotech companies are pushing legislation to allow scientists with conflicts of interest give advice to the agency. The “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act,” a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Frank Lucas (Okla.) and Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to industry to join the board by amending the membership rules so that, “persons with substantial and relevant expertise are not excluded from the Board due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest in the Board’s advisory activities.” The bill would also prevent the EPA from considering various reports on the existence of human-caused climate change.

The bill is coming to a vote at a time when the EPA is in the process of forming new scientific advisory board committee on Agricultural Science issues after the EPA announced last year that they were opening a nomination period to recruit scientists to join the new committee. The nomination period ends this month. The committee will provide scientific advice to the EPA on matters that “have a significant direct impact on farming and agriculture-related industries.” If the EPA has scientific questions about the safety of pesticides or genetically engineered crops that are proposed for market, they would look to this new committee for advice.

Reps. Lucas and Peterson, the bill’s sponsors, are both top recipients of campaign contributions from agricultural interests. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, both have received more money from the crop production industry than from any other industry over the course of their careers. Lucas has taken $990,205 from crop production interests while Peterson has taken more than $1.3 million.

Monsanto, a leading multinational corporation in agricultural biotechnology, has been a major contributor to both Lucas and Peterson. Since the 2002 election cycle, the company has given $31,000 to Lucas and $43,999 to Peterson in the form of campaign contributions. Monsanto has also donated $45,000 to their leadership PACs since 2010.

Another top contributor that Lucas and Peterson have in common is American Crystal Sugar, the sugarbeet behemoth that controls one-third of the sugarbeet acreage in the U.S and plants genetically modified seeds that are designed to be sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. American Crystal Sugar has given a combined $138,448 to their campaigns since 2002, and they rank as Peterson’s top career donor. They have also given $40,000 to Peterson’s leadership PAC over the years.

This bill is almost certain to pass the House, and it could easily be approved by the Republican-led Senate at some point in the near future. The president has said he will veto this bill as well as another science-related bill moving through the House: 

While the science committee reform bill would require board members to abstain from participating in matters in which they have an interest, the process for for determining such instances is unclear. During the committee process Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) sought to strengthen this section by broadening the prohibition to all matters “for which there is reason to believe that it may involve” a conflict of interest, but his amendment was withdrawn and did not get considered.