What is the Responsible Science Policy Coalition? Here Are Some Clues

Read the full article by Michael Halpern

“An interesting new group has popped up called the Responsible Science Policy Coalition (RSPC) that seems to have a significant interest in chemical safety policy. Are they legitimate? As Congress prepares for another hearing into the dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, it’s worth digging into who these folks might be…

In July, the Responsible Science Policy Coalition surfaced at a meeting of the Council of Western Attorneys General where they expressed being ‘eager to help your state with your issues.’ In their presentation to the attorneys general, the RSPC argued that there are ‘lots of problems with existing PFAS studies’ and that these studies ‘don’t show the strength of association needed to support causation.’

The RSPC also submitted a comment on the ATSDR draft toxicology assessment that extensively detailed why, in their view, ATSDR’s scientific approach was sub-par.

Where, then, did the Responsible Science Policy Coalition come from, and why do they care so much about PFAS? Here’s what we know. According to the PowerPoint presentation, RSPC is a new coalition made up of 3M, Johnson Controls, and unnamed other companies.

The inclusion of 3M is particularly notable because the company spent decades hiding the science about the dangers of PFAS. 3M used such chemicals in many highly-used products including Scotchgard and firefighting foam…

RSPC seems to be led by Jonathan Glendill and James Votaw. Glenhill is the president of the Policy Navigation Group, whose list of past and present clients is dominated by industry groups. Votaw is a lawyer for Keller and Heckman; the address given for RSPC is the address of Keller and Heckman’s DC offices. Votaw has signed the three comments from RSPC on the ATSDR study (the first two were extension requests). Votaw’s practice concentrates on environmental and health and safety regulation, including chemicals and pesticides.

Keller and Heckman’s chemicals practice is more circumspect, but their pesticides practice is described in part as ‘[helping] clients defend existing markets worldwide against governmental pressure and environmentalist activism.’ They can help companies ‘defend against an EPA enforcement action’ and ‘secure successful tolerance reassessments.’ …

A name like the Responsible Science Policy Coalition makes insinuations of course—that most people are pulling numbers out of thin air and pursuing haphazard or irresponsible science policy, and we really need some adults in the room. The same words are reused again and again in the names of these types of organizations, and ‘responsible’ is no different. There’s the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy, the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Reform, the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, and more.

Less charitably, groups like RSPC are known as front groups. Disguised by innocuous-sounding names and with a veneer of independence, they principally exist to create doubt and confusion about the state of the science to avoid regulation of the products their members create. Plenty of industries have them. The American Council on Science and Health has long conducted purportedly independent science that was in fact funded by corporate interests. The Groundwater Protection Council fights federal regulation of fracking. The Western States Petroleum Association, the top lobbyist for the oil industry in the western United States, was found in 2014 to be running at least sixteen different front groups in order to undermine forward-looking policies like California’s proposal to place transportation fuels under the state’s carbon cap.

Could the Responsible Science Policy Coalition meet its stated goal to ‘accelerate research and promote best practices and best available science in policy decisions?’ Perhaps. But those looking to RSPC for advice should be wary of the fact that so far, it seems to exist to encourage more relaxed regulation of PFAS chemicals – a decision that is worth a lot of money to the organization’s key members.”