A new study highlights how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to game the rule-making system to cloak contentious policy decisions as based on science.
Susan Dudley, president of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, and Marcus Peacock, executive vice president of the Business Roundtable, published a report to highlight the “perverse incentives involved in developing regulations” as part of EPA’s air quality setting standards.
The report outlines problems in the regulatory process from the way Congress wrote the Clean Air Act to how EPA staff and agency science advisers present the data to the administrator. All this creates a “science charade” to mask controversial decisions, the report claims.
The study also took aim at EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which is a board of science advisers tasked with reviewing and recommending air quality standards for pollutants.
But the legislative language authorizing CASAC allows them to “make hidden policy judgments couched in scientific terms and attempt to influence” EPA decisions, according to the study.
Recent CASAC panels have been more activist in their recommendations, which is one reason why they’ve been targeted by Republican lawmakers.
House lawmakers passed two bills in 2017 to require EPA to use publicly-available scientific data and limit the conflicts of interest of agency science advisers. Both bills were highly criticized by environmental activists.
The conservative Energy & Environment Legal Institute sued EPA in 2016 based on data showing 24 of the 26 members of a clean air advisory panel had received, or are the current recipients of, EPA grants. In total, panel members received more than $190 million from EPA.
“When questions involving policy judgment and values are falsely characterized as scientific, a small number of people have disproportionate influence on the information that is used and how it is characterized, leading to decisions that are not as accountable or as transparent as they should be,” Dudley and Peacock wrote.
“This is exacerbated by the adversarial nature of rulemaking, by the reluctance of courts to review scientific findings, and by group dynamics that discourage differences of opinion, mask uncertainty, and give short shrift to alternative perspectives,” they wrote.
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