Science and business don’t always mix well. The situation becomes considerably more difficult when politicians are involved.
However, the difficulty is well worth the effort, according to physicist and sustainable energy entrepreneur Sean Casten.
Casten has spent more than ten years attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions profitably. He holds degrees in molecular biology and biochemical engineering.
He has learned how frequently policy obstructs progress during his time working in the clean energy sector.
In a recent interview, he said to Science AF, “Our political environment too frequently rewards those who make judgments and pass legislation for short-term political benefit, leaving citizens to deal with the true aftermath.”
Casten is committed to resolving this issue. In 2018, he is challenging Republican incumbent Peter Roskam in the sixth congressional district of Illinois, in what has been dubbed “the Chicago area’s hottest congressional contest.”
Casten feels that by combining his expertise in science and business, he can bring a fact-based, cooperative, and open-minded approach to politics.
He is one of numerous scientists vying for a seat in Congress in 2018, and 314 Action, a group dedicated to increasing the number of scientists in political office, has endorsed him. Casten informed us that Congress is only a sizable, pretty potent group in the end.
There’s no reason why the same strategies that work in other, non-political organizations can’t work in this one, too. Casten is giving voters a clear choice by running on a strong clean energy agenda. With global warming being “the single most existential threat we face as a species,” the clean energy entrepreneur is making environmental protection a central theme of his campaign.
In contrast, Roskam, his opponent, reportedly referred to climate research as “junk science” in 2006, and the League of Conservation Voters gave him a three percent rating for his voting record on environmental issues last year.
Casten said Roskam’s voting record on environmental issues was motivated by politics rather than facts. “I don’t know what Roskam genuinely thinks,” she added.
The actual effects of such “short-sighted” environmental policies are slowly becoming clear in Roskam’s district as a result of a serious public health catastrophe. In what he calls a highly educated, “fact-positive” constituency, Casten believes that this may be, at least in part, the reason why he has been gaining support in the polls.
A federal assessment was made public in late August, warning that ethylene oxide gas (EtO), which has been utilized for three decades by Sterigenics International, is far more hazardous than previously believed.
The analysis discovered an estimated cancer risk that was substantially greater than the national norm near one of the Sterigenics plants in Willowbrook, Illinois.
As the 19,000 residents who live close to the plant want action and responsibility from their elected leaders, Casten’s opponent Roskam is feeling the pressure.
Casten and a number of environmental organizations are criticizing Roskam, who has been in office since 2007, for prioritizing business over science and failing to do enough to safeguard the health of his constituents.
The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that has opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and whose former senior official is now the EPA’s deputy assistant director, has given Roskam more than US$200,000 and several campaign advertisements just for this election.
Casten told us, “The Sterigenics case is an important local tale, but regrettably, nationally it is a modest example of what occurs when a governing party deliberately undercuts a government body.”
The vote history of Casten’s rival is quite telling. Roskam just voted to abolish the EPA Science Advisory Board, a body that advises the EPA on scientific matters. The same board also discovered that EtO triples the chance of developing cancer.
Additionally, he supported the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, which would have prevented actual scientists from advising the EPA while allowing insiders from the chemical industry access.
The law was dubbed a “gift to the chemical business” by the NRDC.
When the Trump administration threatened to shut down the EPA headquarters in Chicago, Roskam also remained mute.
Casten contends that underfunding the EPA and eliminating the EPA Science Advisory Board are ethically bankrupt in addition to being politically short-sighted.
“It imperils the security and health of people. It will cause deaths.” The EPA has pledged a more coordinated approach in the wake of weeks of widespread public outcry over Sterigenics.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Roskam has claimed responsibility for the EPA’s decision to test nearby neighborhoods.
However, Casten believes there is a more effective alternative, one that is both rational and supported by research.
He contends that the Sterigenics factory should be promptly shut down until complete emission tests and a local effect analysis are completed in order to ensure public safety.
Instead of cherry-picking facts that agree with our preconceived notions, Casten advised us to commit to scientific research and let those findings guide us to the truth.
And anyone who doesn’t see the gravity of their duty to all Americans today and future generations must be removed from political office.
Casten’s political message seems to be having an effect. A New York Times survey conducted in September revealed a near tie between Casten and Roskam.
Just weeks before the November election, a more recent survey commissioned by Casten’s congressional campaign put the political outsider just ahead of the incumbent Republican.
Still too close to call, the race.