EPA Ramps Up Its Overhaul Of ‘Independent’ Science Advisory Boards


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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is phasing out an air quality advisory panel as it continues to reform and cut back the web of experts that inform the agency’s policy decisions.

The Particulate Matter Review Panel (PMRP) is not scheduled to research or review EPA policies next year, according to The New York Times.

The PMRP is made up of 20 scientists that study air pollutant’s effects on the respiratory system. The panel is an offshoot of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) that approves all research and recommendations from the PMRP to be passed on to the EPA.

Cutting off the PMRP is an attempt by EPA leadership to dismiss scientific evidence that contradicts the Trump administration’s agenda, environmentalists say. (RELATED: EPA Wipes Clean Advisory Board Criticized For Fast-Tracking Obama-Era Climate Regs)

Congressional Republicans have been highly critical of the EPA’s Science Advisory Boards, including CASAC, in recent years. The committee’s system of delegating its duties of research, review and advise to panels such as the PMRP has undercut its legal responsibility to stay “independent.”

The work of CASAC’s panelists is often cited in the EPA policies they are tasked with independently reviewing, and members with a stake in the research rarely recuse themselves from the review process. Panelists’ work was cited 700 times in several assessments reviewed by the CASAC panel on ozone. Sixteen members of the 20 member panel had an interest in approving documents’ science, a 2014 letter from Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said.

A 2016 analysis of the ozone panel revealed that 17 of its members had received a total of $192 million in EPA grants to conduct research for the EPA. Members of the particulate matter panel received another $190 million in grants from the EPA, according to a 2016 lawsuit filed by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute.

“Under the current system, the EPA can select who it wishes to fund, choose key studies to support regulatory decisions, place the authors of those studies on the CASAC, and then ask their opinion on the resulting analysis and policy,” Texas Commission of Environmental Quality chief toxicologist Michael Honeycutt testified to the House in 2013. “Clearly, this poses a potential conflict of interest, even if the study authors recuse themselves from discussions which directly addresses their own work.”

The particulate matter panel’s responsibilities will revert back to CASAC, prompting concern that the quality of the board’s science will suffer.

“They’re being asked to implement a new process, which will significantly increase their workload,” University of Washington biostatistics professor and former CASAC member Lianne Sheppard told TheNYT. “All of this will result in poorer-quality scientific oversight.”

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