In early April, UCLA will decide whether to fire epidemiologist James Enstrom, a fixture in the UCLA Department of Public Health since the 1970s. If UCLA does give him the boot, Assemblyman Dan Logue has threatened to hold hearings. Whatever happens to Enstrom, legislators have good reason to investigate.
Enstrom is the author of a 2005 study that found no evidence that PM2.5, dust and soot from diesel exhaust, causes premature deaths. That’s the contention of the California Air Resources Board. Their preferred scholar was Hien Tran, who claimed to have a Ph.D in statistics from UC Davis but actually bought his doctorate from a diploma mill. Enstrom blew the whistle on him and also noted that a panel that issued another study had exceeded its three-year term limit. That did not go over well at CARB or UCLA.
Enstrom earned a masters degree in public health from UCLA and a Ph.D in physics from Stanford. UCLA claimed his work was not aligned with the mission of his department. That is nonsense on its face but true in another sense. The current mission is apparently to give CARB whatever it wants, regardless of the scientific evidence — if you want to keep your job.
In science, credential fakery is a career killer, but in CARBifornia you can get away with it. Hien Tran was suspended and demoted but not fired. Hearings could look into CARB’s standards on academic fraud, and how they might be improved. The way CARB boss Mary Nichols handled the Tran matter also deserves scrutiny.
Nichols hushed it up and pushed ahead with the draconian regulations she wanted. When the fakery came to light, she dismissed it as a mere distraction. Not a single legislator called for her resignation, which raises an oversight question.
Nichols is an appointee, so California voters can’t turn her out of office the way they tossed California Chief Justice Rose Bird in 1986. The CARB board is obviously not up to the task and neither was the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Attorney General Jerry Brown, who now is governor. Indeed, he reappointed Mary Nichols. By all indications the ruler of CARBifornia can do whatever she wants with impunity. Also worth a hearing is CARB’s attempt to colonize more of California.
In a Feb. 2 lecture at UC’s Sacramento Center, UC Santa Cruz environmental studies professor Timothy P. Duane said that Mary Nichols wants to turn CARB into an “energy agency.” Professor Duane also noted that CARB is the “new kid on the block,” compared with the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission. These agencies have “overlapping complimentary jurisdiction,” Duane said. In other words they are in some sense redundant.
Might that redundancy also be true of CARB and the California Environmental Protection Agency? Does California suffer from regulatory overload? Are California’s environmental regulations based on the best science? Legislators should look into all that, and more, along with the matter of James Enstrom. His reappointment hearing is slated for April 4-8.
K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, www.pacificresearch.org.