With the confirmation of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Trump administration has demonstrated a bold commitment to unwinding the regulatory regime of the past eight years.
Under President Obama, EPA’s reputation dropped sharply in many parts of the country. Rather than partnering with state and local leaders to identify and address environmental issues, EPA was more interested in superseding states’ sovereignty through unilateral and vague rules and regulations.
EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, for example, was a particularly egregious case of the agency’s poor communication and questionable motives. The rule sought to vastly expand the agency’s regulatory control over our nation’s waterways to include small drainage ditches and even ponds on private property.
In rural America, EPA had become a four letter word. Many of my constituents were constantly worried about potential fines or the overwhelming cost of complying with prospective regulations.
By contrast, Administrator Pruitt has a strong understanding of the important role state and local leaders play in the regulatory process. He has the ability and opportunity to reestablish the rule of law at EPA and refocus the agency on addressing environmental issues in a practical and deliberate manner.
This will go a long way towards restoring EPA’s credibility, but that doesn’t mean we cannot still improve upon the agency’s process. This is a team effort; it’s Congress’s duty to identify practical reforms or changes that promote EPA’s objectives, which is why I introduced the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act.
The House will vote this week on my proposal to implement safeguards and shed light on the scientific review process behind many federal regulations.
One particular area of concern regarding EPA has been the objectivity and transparency of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), an organization created in 1978 to provide policymakers with independent expert advice on scientific and technical information.
Over time, the SAB has experienced a number of deficiencies that threaten the board’s objectivity and efficacy. In addition to limited public participation, there have been troubling instances of EPA interference with expert advice as well as potential conflicts of interest among the board’s members.
Addressing these shortcomings head-on is important because the data that comes out of the SAB is ultimately used to justify the regulatory framework our economy must operate under. More stringent regulations on energy and agriculture producers, for instance, often mean higher food prices or larger monthly utility bills for American families.
A major part of smart policymaking is soliciting advice from a variety of sources. That’s why the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act expands the opportunity for any qualified and unbiased expert to contribute to the SAB. Often state, local, or tribal officials can provide critical insight and knowledge on a pending regulatory issue, but currently there are only two members on the SAB who represent states.
The bill also requires the SAB to respond publicly to any dissenting scientific views. Taxpayers expect a responsive government so any uncertainty with scientific research should be handled in an open and transparent manner.
Sound science must be the cornerstone of sound policy; this principle holds true regardless of which party controls Congress or who sits in the Oval Office. With this legislation, we will ensure the most qualified and objective experts – not members of Congress or outside interest groups – are free to undertake an honest review of EPA’s regulatory science.
Lucas is the Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He has served congressional districts in northern and western Oklahoma since 1994.