The Trump administration is moving forward with reforms on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) picks scientific advisers, pushing policies Republicans have backed for years.
The House passed a bill in March that would, among other things, bar scientists currently receiving EPA grants from serving on EPA advisory committees. The bill is still sitting in the Senate and is unlikely to pass.
But while congressional efforts stall, the Trump administration is moving forward with its own reforms to EPA’s science board.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would issue a directive next week dealing with potential conflicts of interest among science advisers who also receive agency research funding. Critics argue EPA funding can compromise the independence of scientific advisers.
For example, 24 of the 26 members of a Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee panel on particulate matter got more than $190 million in EPA grants over the years, according to reports. In another case, 17 of the 20 scientific advisers on an ozone panel got $192 million in EPA grants.
“Reforming EPA’s advisory boards will strengthen public trust in the EPA and the science the agency uses to justify its policies,” Thea McDonald, spokeswoman for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The House science committee has been the driving force behind legislation to reform how EPA reviews the science behind its policies, including the science advisers bill passed in March.
“Chairman Lamar Smith has long advocated for a more balanced and transparent membership on the advisory boards, especially after conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency became prevalent during the Obama administration,” McDonald said.
Smith, who chairs the House science committee, has introduced multiple bills to keep the EPA from using “secret science” — relying on studies that don’t make all their data publicly available.
Environmentalists have opposed the science committee’s legislative efforts, including the science advisers bill. Activists argue the laws will hamstring EPA and prevent it from using good science.
“Suffice it to say it will not make the EPA great again; it will gut the EPA at the expense of public health and safety,” Andrew Rosenberg, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told InsideClimate News in February.
Many of EPA’s costliest regulations of the past eight years have relied on non-public scientific data, including the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
The CPP and other major air regulations claim billions of dollars in public health benefits from reduced deaths from pollution. These figures are largely based on two studies from the 1990s that have not made their raw data public.
A newer version of Smith’s “secret science” bill passed the House in March but has languished in the Senate. It’s not clear if EPA will take up this issue.
“Chairman Smith looks forward to the official announcement from Administrator Pruitt next week and is supportive of his efforts to restore independence and objectivity to the advisory boards,” McDonald said.
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