Researcher who questioned CARB wins legal victory and settlement

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A California academic whose criticisms of science behind the nation’s most expensive diesel emissions rules has won a legal victory and effectively erased his termination.

James Enstrom, an epidemiologist and researcher at UCLA for 35 years, learned last week he had won $140,000 and retains his ability to keep an office and use laboratory facilities on campus. He’ll also have the ability to gain an appointment to perform additional research.

“It’s gratifying to get any kind of decision against the university,” Enstrom told Land Line Magazine by telephone Monday. “It’s really a brutal process. They go out of their way to crush anyone that contests their agenda.”

In 2009, Enstrom was notified that his appointment as a researcher was under review. By 2010, Enstrom was told he had been let go because his research “is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department,” court documents say.

Enstrom, who sued UCLA over the firing in 2012, has been a thorn in the side of state air regulators for years.

In 2002, he began a study examining the relationship between particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and mortality in California. Published in 2005, his findings saw no relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality in the state – “representing the largest and most detailed study of the relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality in California that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal,” his lawsuit stated.

Enstrom’s position on particulate matter put him at odds with most colleagues at UCLA. In December 2008, only months after then UCLA law professor Mary Nichols was appointed to serve as CARB Chairman, Enstrom issued a series of public criticisms of the science used by CARB to justify diesel regulations.

Enstrom also alleged serious unethical conduct by Nichols and then UCLA faculty member John Froines – chairman of the state Scientific Review Panel. Enstrom pointed out that multiple members of the review panel had served too many terms and said they had damaged a fundamental tenet of the peer review process. Froines and other members were removed around 2010.

Many truckers likely remember CARB’s Hien Tran scandal.

Tran, who was lead author of CARB’s report on PM2.5 and premature death – research used to justify the Truck and Bus Regulation – was suspended after Enstrom pointed out Tran hadn’t earned a Ph.D. from the University of California-Davis as Tran had claimed. Tran later admitted to paying $1,000 for the Ph.D. from an Internet diploma mill in New York.

Enstrom said the university powers seemed to be interested most in squelching disagreement that would rock the boat.

“There is really an effort here in California to crush dissent,” he said. “I managed to beat it back to some extent, but it basically still continues. They just don’t stop. They didn’t volunteer anything, and they fought every single thing my lawyers asked for. It’s really dangerous, in my view, the way the EPA and CARB are functioning.”

Enstrom’s lawsuit had been slated for trial beginning in November 2014. A few weeks before the trial date, however, the two sides reached an informal agreement that took an additional four months to make official.

As for his lawyers, Enstrom praised the efforts of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington D.C.-based law firm that took on his case pro bono.

“It was a miracle that I was able to fight with any kind of lawsuit at all,” he said. “There wouldn’t have been a lawsuit if they hadn’t taken it on. I’m really grateful.”

In a column posted both at the ACLJ site and National Review magazine, an ACLJ attorney hailed the victory over the Enstrom’s ideology driven firing.

“Dr. Enstrom’s victory comes at a critical time, reminding the public that the scientific establishment is hardly infallible,” wrote ACLJ attorney David French. “It shouldn’t take an act of job-risking courage to bring transparency and honesty to science. … Here’s hoping that with more victories like Dr. Enstrom’s, universities will learn that censorship is expensive. Protecting academic freedom may lead to less scientific consensus, but it will certainly lead to greater integrity.”

Maintaining an office on UCLA’s campus was important to Enstrom. As attorneys hammered out the legal agreement between last fall and March, the epidemiologist wanted to ensure he could continue to collaborate with other scientists using the state university system’s vast resources.

Further battles are to be fought.

“I’m just going to use this as a further stepping stone for getting some of the scientific issues straightened out – some of the bad science,” said Enstrom, adding he would follow closely proposed legislation (HR1030) to require EPA and other agencies to make science behind regulations transparent and reproducible.

CARB and other environmental power brokers have grown their influence in California even during the years Enstrom’s case plugged through the legal system. While he waits for his check from the university, Enstrom is glad truth won out.

“That’s one of the reasons I did this,” Enstrom said. “I wanted to at least see if it is possible to go up against these powerful organizations and come away with some kind of victory.

“This is encouraging.”

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