Posted inClimate Crisis, Environment, Politics, Science

House Passes A Bill That Restricts Scientists From Advising The EPA

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This is a few days old now, but worth reporting for its sheer unfair idiocy.

As io9 reports:

By a vote of 229-191, the House has just passed a GOP-sponsored bill to ensure that a more “balanced panel of experts” will advise the Environmental Protection Agency. But critics say it will reduce the participation of independent scientists in favor of those with financial ties to industry.

Established by Congress in 1978, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is authorized to:

  • Review the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information being used by the EPA.
  • Provide science advice as requested by the EPA Administrator.
  • Advise the agency on broad scientific matters.

In other words, the SAB exists not to advocate any particular policy, but to evaluate whether the best science is being used in agency decisions.

But what constitutes the “best science” is an increasingly relative concept on Capitol Hill these days. And Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) claimed that he was making it better when he sponsored H.R. 1422, otherwise known as the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013.

Currently, the SAB does include advisors with industry expertise. Of the board’s current 51 members, which are appointed by the EPA Administrator for three-year terms, three have industry expertise. But Stewart says that’s not enough. “All we’re asking is that there be some balance to those experts…We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them in the process.”

Stewart, a climate change denier who is the Chariman of the Subcommittee on Environment — and who has said that the EPA is a federal agency that he’d like to see dissolved — announced in a press release following the House vote:

“Through the EPA, the Obama Administration is aggressively pursuing costly regulations that impact nearly every sector of the American economy. These rules should be based on sound scientific assertions and conclusions. It’s critical that we have a balanced panel of experts operating in an open and transparent way. This bill improves that process in key areas.”

Fair and Balanced?

That’s not how House Democrats see it. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking member on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, describes H.R. 1422 as “one of the most anti-science and anti-health” pieces of legislation she’s witnessed in her 22 years in Congress:

The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013, paves the way for industry to have a greater influence over EPA by distorting the process for selecting members of the Science Advisory Board in favor of industry-affiliated “experts.” It actually prohibits scientists who have relevant subject matter expertise from providing their expert advice to the EPA, increasing the likelihood that industry experts—those with obvious financial conflicts of interest—will be able to skew the recommendations of the Board. The bill also favors industry by creating unnecessary procedural hurdles that will delay EPA actions to protect the health and safety of every American.

Francesca Grifo, a scientist who was previously the director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, shares that view. In March 2013, she testified before congress that the proposed legislation would “remove longstanding and widely accepted practices for dealing with conflicts of interest” and “reduce the expertise of SAB members”:

Conflicts of interest threaten the integrity of science. Specifically, the objectivity of the members of an advisory committee and the public’s trust in the advice rendered by that committee are damaged when a member of an advisory committee has a secondary interest that creates a risk of undue influence on decisions or actions affecting the matters in front of the committee. The scientific experts who advise the Government should reflect the best minds in America, possessing comprehensive, independent and up-to-date knowledge.

Continue reading io9 report

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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