EPA science board criticizes Trump administration's environmental proposals

Members of the Environmental Protection Agency's own Scientific Advisory Board are raising concerns about several of the Trump administration's environmental...

Posted: Jan 2, 2020 3:40 AM
Updated: Jan 2, 2020 3:42 AM

Members of the Environmental Protection Agency's own Scientific Advisory Board are raising concerns about several of the Trump administration's environmental priorities, including on auto emissions rules and clean water regulations.

That's surprising because the Trump administration has overhauled the panel of scientists, dismissing about half of its previous membership and raising alarms in the environmental community about increasing industry influence on the board.

In draft responses to several EPA policies posted online this month board members raise concerns with the agency's conclusions. The drafts are slated for consideration by the full board at a meeting early next year. The Washington Post first reported on the reports Tuesday.

The agency said it "appreciates and respects the work and advice of the" board.

"The reports they posted are draft and will be discussed at their next meeting," EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer told CNN. "The final commentary and reports will be developed soon after the public meeting and then sent to the Administrator."

In some cases, the drafts offer a stinging rebuke to the administration.

For example, the report on the administration's plan to freeze vehicle emission standards argues "there are significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule."

Another draft commentary concludes the administration's overhaul of water regulations "decreases protection for our Nation's waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining 'the chemical, physical and biological integrity' of these waters."

And a draft response to the agency's scientific transparency proposal calls increasing transparency "a worthy goal," but finds "key considerations ... have been omitted from the proposal or presented without analysis." Critics say the rule would restrict EPA scientists from using many public health studies, which for patient privacy reasons do not include raw data, but the agency says relying on studies with public datasets allows "the science to withstand skepticism and peer review."

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the draft response to this policy is "probably the strongest language I've seen" from the Scientific Advisory Board.

"It really is very strong and clear language. I'm very pleased to see it," he told CNN.

But despite the critical draft reports, he said his concerns with the board's composition remain. The Union of Concerned Scientists sued the agency in 2018 over new membership rules that it said would block qualified academic researchers from serving. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal trial court but is currently on appeal.

Schiermeyer defended the agency's rules. She said the water rule was developed consistent with "authorities granted ... by Congress and the limitations established by the Supreme Court," which the Scientific Advisory Board does not need to take into consideration.

"As a result, the definition of 'waters of the United States' may be informed by science, but science cannot dictate where to draw the line between federal and state or tribal waters, as those are legal distinctions established within the overall framework and construct of the Clean Water Act," she said.

The vehicle emission proposal "will save lives and reduce the cost of a new car, while creating jobs across our nation," she added.

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