Fired UCLA Researcher and Pollution Standards Critic Sues to Get Job Back

Friday, June 15, 2012
James Enstrom

At his website, James E. Enstrom likens California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chairman Mary Nichols to Soviet Union scientist Trofim Lysenko, who early in the 20th century doctored studies of plants to make a case for rejecting the groundbreaking theories of Gregor Mendel that underlie much of genetics. The embrace of Lysenko’s theories had a devastating effect on Soviet agriculture for decades.  Enstrom calls actions of the board “draconian” and its research “bad science.”

So when the vocal, non-tenured air pollution and second-hand smoke UCLA researcher was laid off in 2010, it was not surprising that he would appeal at every level system. On June 13, he filed a lawsuit in federal court to get his job back.

AB 32, the greenhouse gas legislation, has been a lighting rod for criticism of the Air Resources Board since its passage in 2006. Critics on the left and right have assailed the board for regulations that were either too lenient or too tough. And none have been more passionate than Enstrom, a research professor at UCLA who specializes in the epidemiology of cancer. He was an early critic of the board’s proposed standards for diesel exhaust and has produced his own studies that he maintains show that diesel exhaust has no effect on mortality. This is in contrast to the board’s contention that at least 1,000 lives are lost every year because of the fumes.

Enstrom had already complained to the board for months about what he perceived to be a total lack of statistical expertise among those in the diesel project before it surfaced that the project leader, Hien T. Tran, had lied about having a Ph.D. in statistics. Enstrom led the charge to have Tran fired and the diesel regulation revoked.

Tran was not fired. But UCLA laid off Enstrom in July 2010, saying his research did not align with the department mission and failed to reach funding requirements. He appealed the layoff to the University of California chancellor and lost.

In October of 2010, researchers at CARB said they had dramatically reduced estimates of how much diesel pollution would be entering the atmosphere. They cited a downturn in the economy for the revision, independent researchers blamed faulty calculations and everyone complained that it was politics as usual. The board suspended enforcement of some of its diesel rules as it prepared to reopen research on the subject.

Enstrom,  whose research has been partially funded by the tobacco industry, is upfront about his concerns for the business community. “I tried to help these businessmen, I don’t want to see these people going out of business,” Enstrom has said. The estimated cost to the transportation industry would be about $6 billion to $10 billion, according to an article in Land Line Magazine.

-Ken Broder

To Learn More:

Pollution Researcher Sues UCLA to Get His Job Back (by Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times)

Enstrom Not Reappointed (Daily Bruin)

Misuse of Diesel Science by CARB (A presentation by James E. Enstrom)

Putting an End to a Rogue State Agency (KillCARB)

Overestimate Fueled State's Landmark Diesel Law (by Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle)

Calls for Diesel Rule Review (Environmental Leader)

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