US EPA Has Been Crippled by Donald Trump & Republicans

by Duane Nichols on April 5, 2019

“If I were still working at the EPA, I would resign” says Bernard Goldstein

Opinion Editorial by Bernard D. Goldstein, Washington Post, April 2, 2019

NOTE: Bernard D. Goldstein was chairman of the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the EPA assistant administrator for research and development under President Reagan from 1983 to 1985. He is dean emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

For years, the fossil-fuel industry has lobbied to weaken air pollution standards. It may now get its wish.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee met via teleconference to devise a new standard for airborne particle pollution. It’s a vitally important task: These tiny particles reach deep into human lungs, causing significant pulmonary and heart problems. And in many parts of the United States, such pollution exceeds the existing health-based particulates standard.

But EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist, has hobbled the committee’s long-standing process to the point that its members cannot provide an informed opinion consistent with the Clean Air Act’s mandate of being “requisite to protect the public health.”

I was the chair of the advisory committee, or CASAC, under Anne Gorsuch, President Ronald Reagan’s first EPA administrator, and was subsequently appointed by Reagan to head the EPA’s Office of Research and Development under Gorsuch’s replacement, the moderate Republican environmentalist William Ruckelshaus. I would have resigned either position had the agency’s overall advisory processes been subject to its current destructive alterations.

The EPA’s organizational structure necessitates a strong and unbiased external advisory process. By having its own in-house science arm, the agency’s political leadership can exert pressure to get the answers it wants. As a counterbalance, it is necessary to have external advisory processes through independent bodies such as CASAC.

Congress established this committee in 1977 to provide unbiased external scientific advice on air-pollutant standards, which are revisited every five years. Congress requires the committee to have seven members, including one from a state agency. But it soon became clear that a seven-member committee would not have sufficient in-depth expertise to make a science-based recommendation.

Accordingly, for more than 40 years, the committee has drawn on the expertise of external advisory subcommittees established for each pollutant of concern. These much larger committees openly review the EPA’s own scientific analysis of the thousands of pertinent peer-reviewed papers and inform the committee’s members of their findings, which committee members then use to recommend health-based standards to the EPA administrator.

That is how it is supposed to work. But last October, Wheeler suddenly and highhandedly terminated the subcommittees working to develop recommendations for the particulate standard, as well as the standard for ozone pollution (which CASAC will review next).

The full weight of providing advice now falls solely on the seven CASAC members. The science underlying particulate standards is especially complex, and the scientific discipline of epidemiology is central to understanding the health effects of both particulates and ozone. But CASAC, for the first time in memory, lacks a single epidemiologist.

Wheeler has appointed four state agency members to CASAC, an unprecedented majority. All work for Republican governors. The current chairman of CASAC is a consultant who also works for industry clients.

Moreover, Wheeler promulgated a new rule that prohibits scientists funded by the EPA from providing the agency with advice. While the ostensible justification for this rule is to root out any pro-EPA bias, the effect is to disqualify the best scientists from advising the agency. Meanwhile, industry representatives and consultants — including those from polluting industries with a clear interest in lax standards — are welcome to provide advice.

When I served at the EPA, Gorsuch was criticized for attempting to control the statements of EPA scientists and cutting the agency’s science budget, as has current EPA leadership. But she did nothing that even came close to the assault on the independence and expertise of the scientific advisory processes carried out by Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

I had hoped Wheeler would reverse Pruitt’s initial policies. Instead, he has taken them well beyond the point that, were I a member of CASAC, I would have resigned. Neither my conscience, nor my concern for the respect of my peers, would have allowed me to provide advice on a complex health-related subject when I could not interact in a scientific consensus advisory process with those who have the necessary expert credentials.

I cannot ask President Trump’s EPA assistant administrator for research and development to resign. That position remains unfilled. Nor is it likely that any credible scientist would accept such a nomination. But I urge the current members of CASAC to step down rather than seemingly acquiesce to this charade. The EPA’s leadership is destroying the scientific foundation of environmental regulations, to the detriment of the health of the American people and our environment.

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E & E News April 6, 2019 at 10:01 am

US EPA panel seeks to bring back fired scientists for clean-air review

By Sean Reilly, E&E News, March 29, 2019

A fractured EPA advisory panel is asking for help as its ability to handle a high-stakes review of particulate matter standards is under harsh scrutiny.

At a public teleconference yesterday, the seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee agreed to recommend that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reconvene an auxiliary panel of experts he abruptly fired last October—or name a new panel made up of members with similar know-how.

There’s no assurance, however, the EPA chief will honor the request. A former contract lobbyist whose clients had included the nation’s largest privately owned coal company, Wheeler has given little explanation for his decision to disband the auxiliary panel, which was charged with helping the main committee in its review of the existing national limits on airborne particulate pollution (Greenwire, Oct. 12, 2018).

In an email this afternoon, an EPA spokeswoman said Wheeler will take all of the committee’s advice under consideration. Tony Cox, a Denver-based consultant who chairs the committee, said in an email that members have not discussed how to proceed if Wheeler rejects it. Also unclear is whether revival of the auxiliary panel would act as a drag on completing the review by EPA’s self-imposed deadline of December 2020.

The committee, usually known by its acronym of CASAC, is charged with offering independent advice to EPA during the review of the particulate standards, which were last revised in 2012. But its members’ fitness to do their jobs again came under biting attack yesterday from former CASAC members and other critics.

“This process is a travesty,” Lianne Sheppard, an ex-member who is on the University of Washington’s public health faculty, said during one of two sessions allotted for public feedback during the teleconference. Sheppard was one of more than a dozen people to speak, many of whom were similarly cutting.

For the committee, the call’s primary purpose was to hammer out a final version of its report on a draft EPA roundup of scientific research on particulate matter’s health and ecological effects. That draft roundup, released last fall and formally known as an integrated science assessment (ISA), cited evidence the existing standards are too weak.

The CASAC’s preliminary report, made public early this month, had slammed the EPA document for employing “unverifiable opinions” to draw its conclusions and a litany of other alleged flaws. For the committee’s detractors, the scathing tone and tentative findings fueled suspicions the panel has no intention of conducting an impartial review.

In a paper published last week, two of those critics accused Cox of pursuing an approach that would make it far more difficult for EPA to strengthen air quality standards to protect public health. Underlying calls for the revival of the auxiliary panel, which was made up mostly of scientists and researchers from academia, is the fact that the CASAC’s current members mostly lack a deep background in air pollution research.

Cox, who has previously done work for the oil and chemical industries, had previously described the preliminary report as a CASAC document and accused opponents of distorting his views. Yesterday, however, he took responsibility for the language that has drawn the most attention and offered a partial mea culpa.

While Cox did not disavow the views underlying his earlier broadside, he said he “made a bad mistake by holding out this ideal of what science should be and then criticizing the ISA for not adhering to that ideal.” A more useful approach, he said, would be to make specific recommendations for what the ISA should do “that it doesn’t do now.”

The bulk of the call was dedicated to hashing out a final version of the preliminary report the committee could then send to Wheeler with its blessing. All of the committee’s seven members are rookies to EPA’s intricate process for reviewing air quality standards. During the call, there were occasional struggles to follow Cox as he proposed major changes to the preliminary report.

“Where are we? What page are you on?” Steve Packham, a Utah state air official, asked at one point. The call, which had been scheduled to last four hours, ran closer to six. Citing a previous commitment, Corey Masuca, another member based in Alabama, dropped out early but left instructions with the EPA employee running the teleconference that he would go along with whatever the committee agreed on.

Dominating the remaining discussions were Cox and Mark Frampton, a retired professor of medicine from the University of Rochester; the two politely but repeatedly clashed over specific “wordsmithing” changes to the preliminary assessment. One of the lengthier debates involved whether to recommend that the research underpinning the ISA’s conclusions should be “independently reproducible and verifiable.”

“This could be read as indicating that all studies should be thrown out unless somebody has gone in and reproduced them,” Frampton said. The wording, he indicated, reminded him of former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s controversial proposal to more broadly bar the use of studies in drafting new regulations for which the underlying data were not transparent and reproducible.

“The thing is, it should be independently reproducible—otherwise it’s not science,” Cox later replied, shortly before broaching a compromise that appeared to win Frampton’s assent. At the call’s conclusion, committee members verbally signed off on some significant changes to the original draft. Those changes will now be incorporated into a final version that will go to Wheeler; besides urging revival of the auxiliary panel, the committee is also calling on EPA to do a second draft of the ISA.

Under the Clean Air Act, particulate matter is one of a half-dozen “criteria” pollutants for which EPA is supposed to periodically review and, if needed, tighten National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The use of auxiliary panels to augment the main CASAC’s expertise dates back decades. In defending Wheeler’s decision to fire the particulate matter review panel last fall, a spokesman said it was consistent with the Clean Air Act and the CASAC’s charter, neither of which mentions such panels.

In response to a congressional query preceding his Senate confirmation earlier this year, Wheeler said he believed that the main committee “has the experience and expertise needed to serve in this capacity.” He added that EPA can also tap advice from other experts to assist the CASAC as needed.


VA Mercury May 13, 2019 at 10:18 am

From the Virginia Mercury, May 13, 2019

Lobbying ties examined in EPA regulatory rollback: A congressional investigation is examining whether top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, former employees of Hunton Andrews Kurth, a law and lobbying outfit with long Richmond ties, violated ethics rules by working on behalf of their former clients, Robin Bravender reports.

Lawmakers have asked for documents and an EPA inspector general investigation into whether the agency’s air chief Bill Wehrum and EPA senior counsel David Harlow improperly worked to roll back air pollution rules to benefit their former utility clients.

Virginia Mercury — Robert Zullo, editor


Zack Colman May 14, 2019 at 10:26 am

Industry group tied to EPA air chief dissolves

Article by Zack Colman, Politico, May 10, 2019

The connections between Hunton, UARG, its member companies and UARG raised ethical concerns over whether a powerful regulator was able to steer business to former friends and colleagues.

A secretive utility industry coalition formerly represented by a top official at the Environmental Protection Agency is dissolving amid investigations into whether its members received special treatment from the Trump administration.

The Utility Air Regulatory Group has been under scrutiny from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which was seeking information on the relationship between power companies, EPA air chief Bill Wehrum and the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, which represented the group.

UARG has frequently argued against tighter air pollution and climate regulations; Wehrum is undoing many of the policies at EPA that the group targeted when he represented it at Hunton.

The group released a statement Friday saying its “membership has decided to disband the organization following a wind down period.” The statement said a committee would be formed to handle “the completion/fulfillment of UARG’s existing obligations and support of members as they continue to cooperate with the Congressional inquiry.”

In a separate statement, Hunton said it was “proud to have been part of” UARG’s efforts to shape federal air pollution rules through public comments and other participation in the regulatory process.

Wehrum represented UARG until 2017, when he was nominated by President Donald Trump to be EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, a position that has allowed him to oversee many of his former clients’ top regulatory priorities.

Membership in UARG was first reported by POLITICO, which obtained internal organization documents showing Hunton billed power companies $8.2 million in dues for 2017. Several utilities had already fled the organization before it was terminated Friday.

The connections between Hunton, UARG, its member companies and UARG raised ethical concerns over whether a powerful regulator was able to steer business to former friends and colleagues.

Wehrum he has stayed in frequent contact with former colleagues at Hunton and other companies affiliated with the group. But he said he did not violate his ethics agreement, as he recused himself for dealing with “particular matters” related to UARG.

The House committee is investigating how power companies paid for UARG dues and whether the group’s members had undue influence over EPA policy. Consumer advocates allege utility customers often foot the bill, which some power companies have confirmed; American Electric Power told Inside EPA that ratepayers financed membership.

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), as well as Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), welcomed the group’s dissolution, but said it wouldn’t affect their investigation.

“Important questions remain about whether EPA officials William Wehrum and David Harlow continue to advance their former coal industry clients’ agenda at EPA, and we intend to see those questions through,” the three lawmakers said in a statement Friday evening.

UARG had existed since the 1970s but became aggressively litigious during the Obama administration.

One of its major achievements was a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, UARG v. EPA, in which Justice Antonin Scalia scolded EPA for seeking an “enormous and transformative expansion” of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

UARG challenged many other major EPA regulations from the Obama era, including carbon rules for existing and future coal plants, a mercury rule for coal plants, the updated ozone standard, haze cleanup plans and safety rules for industrial chemical facilities. Most of those lawsuits hadn’t been settled before the Trump administration took power. EPA is now revising or repealing most of those rules.

And UARG is helping defend EPA in at least six ongoing lawsuits, including over several changes to air permitting policies and the agency’s rejection of pollution complaints from downwind states.

It is unclear how UARG’s dissolution will affect those cases.



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