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Policy

Republicans In Congress Launch Another Salvo Against EPA

Oversight: House of Representatives bill would change membership, operation of agency’s Science Advisory Board

by Cheryl Hogue
April 16, 2013

As part of a larger attack on the Environmental Protection Agency, a congressional committee has approved legislation that would change the makeup and operation of expert panels that advise EPA on scientific matters.

The bill, H.R. 1422, would boost industry participation on panels of EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). It also would significantly weaken SAB panels’ ability to limit oral comments from industry lobbyists or environmental activists—even though at most meetings, the time for board business is tightly allocated. And the legislation would require the board to respond in writing to some of those comments.

Industry organizations, including the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an association of chemical manufactures, are pushing Congress to make these changes. H.R. 1422 has opponents, too, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and environmental groups.

The House of Representatives’ Science, Space & Technology Committee agreed to the bill on April 11 by a vote of 21-16 along party lines. Rep. Christopher D. Stewart (R-Utah), sponsor of H.R. 1422, says the bill will fix “a process that is broken.” Stewart tied the legislation to curbing what Republicans view as EPA’s regulatory overreach.

According to ACC, “The legislation will improve how panels are formed, hold peer review panels accountable in responding to public comment, and ensure that legitimate scientific concerns are transparently addressed.”

In contrast, Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) said much of H.R. 1422 “appears to be designed to weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the Science Advisory Board.”

“This is all about tying the board up in knots and making it more vulnerable to corporate influence,” says Celia Wexler of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science & Democracy.

H.R. 1422 is among several measures the Republican-controlled House is considering that are aimed directly or indirectly at EPA. Another measure, for instance, would give the Energy Secretary veto power over EPA rules—notably those controlling air pollution—on the basis of costs, without considering benefits. A broader antiregulatory bill would require Congress to approve major regulations—those with an annual impact on the economy of $100 million or more—before they could take effect.

H.R. 1422 faces a good chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, but its prospects are dim in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

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Comments
Ken Forbes-Woodland, CA (April 17, 2013 1:30 PM)
I welcome this bill and the spirit behind it. If you have ever wanted to see an academia-stacked board, with a few EPA regulators thrown in for good measure, takes a look at the current SAB board makeup:

http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebExternalCommitteeRosters?OpenView&committee=BOARD&secondname=Science%20Advisory%20Board

How many of these advisors on this board have ever worked in private industry or met a payroll? Yet their action affects so many of us who do so every day. It is time for a change in this board’s makeup and today would not be too soon.

There is no doubt that industry should play a larger role in the SAB as scientific experts abound in companies and private enterprise throughout this nation, yet these voices are completely absent in the rulemaking advisory role of the EPA's SAB. And the very public that is supposedly served by this group should not be restricted in the comment process and certainly deserve adequate and thoughtful responses.

Academia does not have a monopoly on scientific independence - and this board is far from independent. The SAB will not become more "vulnerable" to corporations, as is alleged by Edwards above. The goal of this bill is to make the board more responsive to business while protecting the environment in this country with full cost-benefit analyses present in the rule-making process. As it stands now, corporations are vulnerable to the EPA SAB and left-leaning academics with little being done without this bill to change the make-up of this board and how it works.

It does seem likely that the bill will die in the Senate but I congratulate Rep. Stewart for giving it attempting to make a positive change. The SAB should be “fundamentally transformed” from the present membership. Amen.
Nigel Bickerstaff (April 17, 2013 4:33 PM)
Republicans "launch another salvo"? ""Part of a broader attack"? Really, C&EN? This piece is labelled "news", but reeks of bias and is sadly out of place in a supposedly scientific paper. Please rewrite or move to the editorial pages.
Chad (April 18, 2013 4:13 AM)
I'll cut a deal with you, Ken. You can have this bill, if it includes a provision that any regulation which the EPA determines passes cost-benefit by more than a factor of three is automatically adopted immediately, with no approval from congress required, and also results in an automatic income tax increase to cover the EPA's costs of implementing and enforcing said regulation.

Deal?




CisT (April 18, 2013 9:24 AM)
The American Chemistry Council and its attempt to mimic the American Chemical Society while pushing its own greedy agenda is an insult to me as a chemist.

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