The is the second in a series of articles about the Environmental Protection Agency. The first one detailed the EPA’s beginnings and goals.
The Environment Protection Agency’s role is to protect human life and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations to support laws passed by Congress. An important component of the EPA is the Science Advisory Board (SAB).
The Science Advisory Board is authorized to:
- review the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information being used by the EPA or proposed as the basis for Agency regulations;
- review EPA research programs and plans;
- provide science advice as requested by the EPA Administrator, and
- advise the agency on broad scientific matters.
The Science Advisory Board is composed of 51 scientists. They have three year terms. Members go through an exhausting nomination process and have strict Ethics Requirements to adhere to. All SAB members have earned a Ph.D. and are considered as “experts” in their field. Most are employed by Universities, but some are employed by Corporations, including Dow Jones, Proctor and Gamble, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Others are employed by independent research corporations, non-profits, and scientific consulting firms. Registered lobbyists are not allowed on the SAB.
On November 18 the House approved HR 1422, or the “Science Advisory Board Reform Act”. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), chair of the House Sub Committee on the Environment. As a House Leader, Chair of a Sub Committee, and sponsor of this bill, it important to know Rep. Stewart’s background to understand his motives:
Before first being elected to Congress in 2012, Stewart was an Air Force pilot; the owner, President and CEO of an energy and environmental consulting firm (Shipley Group); and an author. One book, Seven Miracles that Saved America, was a New York Times Bestseller. The book’s premise is: “At critical times in our history…we literally had miracles where God intervened to save us.” The book explains seven of these events.
Glen Beck is a strong supporter of Stewart, saying, “”If he wasn’t running (for congress), I’d be trying to convince him to work for me.” Beck’s book promotional interview with Stewart gives us insight into their relationship, and Stewart’s religious convictions.
Besides being a proud Climate Change denier, Stewart has stated in an interview in the St. George (Utah) News that “Energy regulations … is a boot on the throat of small business.” He also said that the Environmental Protection Agency should dissolve, “The EPA thwarts energy development.”
Rep. Stewart’s Bill would “reform” the EPA’s Science Advisory Board by placing more industry-employed scientists/consultants on it. It would also require 10% of the board members be employed by state, local or tribal governments. Both acts reduces number of independent scientists on the Board and threatens the quality of their work.
Claiming a Conflict of Interest, HR 1422 would prohibit the Independent Scientists from participating in “advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review and evaluation of their own work.” The bill would also make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the Board. It other words, HR 1422 stacks the deck towards the corporate hired guns while restricting the independent scientist community.
Stewart justifies the bill by saying “We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them, (industry employed scientists) in the (Science Advisory Board) process. All we’re asking is that there be some balance to those experts, and that there further be transparency and understanding of who was selected, why they were selected, and why others were excluded.”
The Bill also proposes changes to require the EPA to increase it’s transparency by:
- changing the method of nominating SAB members
- making different financial reports available to the public
- making hazard assessments available to the SAB
- publishing the SAB’s advice, comments and views in Federal Register
- requiring more and longer hearings to gather the public opinions on their projects
The Congressional Budget Office is estimating these requirements would cost just under $500,000 annually.
Stewart summarized, “There is a process that is broken. And it’s through this bill we can not only improve that process, but also restore trust between the American people and the federal government.”
Democrats on the subcommittee, and the Scientific Community sees this bill in a different light.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) counter Stewart’s argument with, “The supposed intent [of the bill] is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve.”
Andrew A. Rosenberg, Director of the Union of Concern Scientists, said in a letter to Congress. “This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies [checks and balances] on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) seemed to summarized the Democrat’s thought, “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”
“While it sounds good to say you are increasing transparency, in reality this simply strengthens the role of special interests’ biased interests in the process,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.).
The White House’s response gives a good summary of the negatives of this bill. Relating to the provision which limits SAB members from citing their own work it states, “Determining the practical meaning of ‘indirect’ involvement will be difficult and consequently problematic to implement. The provisions on appointment of experts to the SAB and various other requirements could preclude the nomination of scientists with significant expertise in their fields.”
HR 1422 passed, 229-191. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY19) was the only republican who voted against the bill. Four democrats (Rep.Nick Rahall (WV), Rep. John Barrow (GA), Rep. Jim Matheson (UT), Rep. Colin Peterson (MN) voted with the republicans to support the bill.
We know this is not just about transparency. According to OpenSecrets.org eleven organizations have registered to lobby HR 1422 in either 2013 or 2014 (or both). They range from business moguls Exxon Mobil and Ford Motor Company to the American Chemistry Council. Many others have supported it through announcements. HR 1422 is about less regulations and weakening the protection the EPA was charged to provide. The EPA’s task is to protect public health, not corporate wealth.
There is little chance this bill will become law this year, but Congress gets more conservative in January and Industry gets more powerful. Who knows what will happen in 2016? They have already passed other anti-EPA bills (to be discussed in later articles). The Supreme Court will be reviewing a case that challenges EPA’s Mercury Standards for Power Plants. The campaign against science has entered a new phase!