Professionalism/Bruce Boler and the EPA
The conflict between Bruce Boler and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) occurred in 2003 and represents an ethical dilemma centered around the manipulation of scientific data to favor the development of golf courses in south Florida. The promises of political and economic gain directed the EPA to endorse a scientific study, funded by developers, claiming that golf courses emit fewer pollutants than marshes. The case gained national recognition after Bruce Boler, a regional storm water pollutant analyst, resigned from the EPA because the inaccurate proposal was accepted.
Growth In South Florida
From 1990-2000, Florida was the 7th fastest growing state in the United States . During this period, 50% of the growth replaced previously undeveloped natural areas. Natural marshland was the most affected by the growth. Since 1990, south Florida has lost on average 1,000 acres of wetland every year . In the 1800s, the Everglades were estimated to be 4,000 square miles, and today it is less than half of its original size . In 1860, a representative of Congress claimed the Everglades of south Florida were "unfit for man or vermin," but today, the same area boasts the highest concentration of golf holes per capita in the world . According to the 2000 census, the total population of south Florida is estimated to be around 5,007,564, higher than the total populations of 30 states.
Because of this period of expedited growth, south Florida has experienced serious problems with water quality. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports poor water quality for 28% of Florida’s river and stream miles, 25% of its lake acres, and 59% of the square miles of its estuaries . In 1999, "Green Goop," blue green algae, appeared in the St. John's river because of the discharge of excessive nutrients . In 2005, Toxin levels in the St. Lucie River and estuary during an algae bloom "were 300 times above suggested drinking water limits and 60 times above suggested recreational limits" . In 2006, phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee exceeded 150 ppb, 3.5 times higher than recommended levels set by the EPA . It is estimated that 25% of the Everglades have been damaged by the polluted water of Lake Okeechobee. For this reason almost 40% of the water that once flowed through the Everglades is now diverted directly to the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Okeechobee .
Contributing Factors to Water Quality Issues
Poor Regulation of Stormwater
From 1990-2000, the state of Florida required only 15-40% of the nutrient concentration filtered from discharged stormwater feeding into local bodies of water .
Destruction of Marshland
Marshland is often called a natural kidney because it is key in controlling water quality. It slows moving water, allowing sediments and nutrients to settle into the soil to be used by plants. However, as marshland becomes developed, the filter is lost and water quality plummets. Because the Everglades today are less than half its original size, it is estimated that 1.7 million gallons of stormwater are discharged directly from south Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean .
Bruce Boler is a biologist who worked as a water quality regulator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2001 to 2003 within the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) . Boler resigned from the EPA in 2003 on the grounds that the agency had accepted a developer-financed study that concluded that wetlands give off more pollutants than they absorb . Boler’s resignation letter can be found here.
During his time with the EPA, Boler reviewed developer permit applications to verify that they were not contributing additional pollutants to the bodies of water surrounding potential development projects . From 2001 until 2003, when he resigned, Boler reviewed over 2,500 acres of potential development denying many of them because of additional impacts to the water quality in Naples, south Florida. In Boler's resignation letter, he claimed he would not approve any project unless 100% of the stormwater discharge was filtered before entering local tributaries. The defining case that led to Boler's resignation revolved around a group of developers, trying to construct a golf course on existing marshland. Boler would not approve the development plans because he believed it would cause detrimental affects to water quality. In response, a group of developers established the Watershed Enhancement Restoration Coalition (WERC) in attempt to circumvent Boler's decision and verify that additional pollutants would not be contributed to the watershed of south Florida. After its formation, the WERC hired an engineer named Harvey Harper to investigate the run-off pollution of the proposed golf course . Harper concluded that wetlands actually give off more pollutants than golf courses and the proposed golf course would not disrupt the environmental balance . Harper based his data on water samples collected from locations close to roads and bridges . After the study was conducted by Harper, the WERC used the analysis to gain a permit for construction. Boler disputed the validity of the results stating: ‘…there was no science showing that golf courses are going to have less pollutant load than wetlands, and in fact, wetlands from all the scientific literature actually remove pollutant discharges through chemical, physical and biological processes’. Boler based his argument on the fact that golf courses decrease pollutant loads created by wetlands . Boler claimed the analysis conducted by the WERC was invalid because it went against other analyses and data backed by over 25 scientists with 25 years of data . Despite the arguments, the WERC was able to use the data as acceptable verification to proceed with development because Jimmy Palmer, the top U.S. EPA official for the entire southeast region (region 4), approved the Harper Model . Jimmy Palmer was a 2001 Bush Administration appointee.
Despite obvious consistency gaps in information  and hesitation from other EPA specialists , Jimmy Palmer, permitted Harper’s model as sound evidence for building golf courses in place of natural wetlands . Therefore, Boler describes this as a case in which politics trumped science . Boler states: 'EPA’s new position that wetlands pollute stands the Clean Water Act on its head and sends the all-clear signal to developers that no project is out of bounds’. Similar projects restricted by the EPA’s environmental policies have an opening for future development. The results suggest the Administration's response to scientific regulations is to take the data and studies away from the scientists and administer their agenda before developing policies and regulations. George H. W. Bush attempted similar actions, increasing developable land by decreasing which lands are classified as wetlands.
Economic Impact of Environmental Regulations: Good or Bad?
There are two widely held beliefs on environmental regulation: it spurs the economy through green industries or it hurts the economy through decreasing our global competitiveness by increasing local cost of business. The actual impacts are not so clear. However, a study of the Clean Air Act that determined industry in counties polluting within the allowed range benefited economically through jobs and revenue shows us environmental regulation can be effective .
An analysis of environmental regulations impact on companies' environmental innovation-related patents showed stricter regulations increase the patents, but not necessarily a businesses' profits. The study also noted a 0.2% decrease in Gross Domestic Product due to environmental regulations. A study on the impact of American States' level of environmental regulations on state economies showed essentially no differences due to regulations. A survey of executives in manufacturing in the U.S. showed that environmental regulations were not a factor on the perceived global competitiveness . It's important to keep in mind there are other impacts from environmental regulation on quality of life and health that are not accounted for here.
As a politically appointed science official, Palmer appears to have been chosen to promote the administration's agenda. Former director of the National Park Service, Rodger F. Kennedy Jr. summarizes the government’s actions: "It's hard to decide what is more demoralizing about the Administration's politicization of the scientific process, its disdain for professional scientists working for our government or its willingness to deceive the American public" . Omission, selective approval, or 'doctoring' of scientifically generated data is a deceptive act by officials. It is seemingly impossible to blame any one individual for the agendas that lead to these decisions, suggesting they are led in part by diffusion of responsibility.
The Politicization of Science
Bruce Boler’s resignation due to unrelenting politically inspired science, is one of many examples of the politicization of science, a misunderstood problem. The common misconception is that politics can be separated from science, when they are essentially inseparable given how policy effects science funding and how science is used as a basis for policy-making .
The Union of Concerned Scientists has accused the former Bush Administration of politicizing science on many occasions. The most well-known issue, global warming, involved largely denying its existence despite support from a majority of doctorates in the geoscience field surveyed in 2008 . After 9-11, the Administration convinced the EPA to ignore air samples with higher than allowed asbestos levels and ensure the public that the air around the world trade center was fine. . The Bush Administration is neither the first nor the last to politicize science, Dr. Pielke, a specialist on the politicization of science testified before congress and cited six other presidents, Republicans and two Democrats, guilty of politicizing science .
The case of Bruce Boler and the EPA highlights how the over-politicization of science leads to twisting of scientific methods and facts. Much like the Frances Oldham Kelsey and Thalidomide case, the government regulator identified a lack of scientific evidence on the part of the applicant. Dr. Kelsey managed to prevent the approval of Thalidomide, the difference in success between the cases stems from the support of Dr. Kelsey by her superiors. Union Carbide and Bhopal case is similar in that regulations were disregarded for the purpose of profiting. However, they did not have a political pass as the developers in the Boler case did.
Boler's case highlights an ethical dilemma where short term gains prevailed over long term consequences. Water quality has deteriorated extensively in south Florida. It is anticipated that millions of dollars will have to be spent on restoration projects in the future. The case also highlights the difficulty in avoiding and limiting the politicization of science. The diffusion of responsibility makes it easy for administrations to politicize science. Without a centralized person to blame, consequences or likelihood of incrimination are low.
Other Similar Cases
Professionals attempting to prevent harm and failing because of their superiors:
Rebels going beyond their superiors:
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