Changes at the EPA Could Put the Public at Risk
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently disbanded a scientific panel of experts on microscopic airborne pollutants which served to help the agency figure out what level of pollutants are safe to breathe. The agency also scrapped plans for a similar panel of experts to assess ground-level ozone. These changes could put the public at risk.
The disbanded airborne pollutants panel reported to the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which is responsible for advising the agency on overall air quality standards. The advisory committee will now likely lack the resources and expertise to provide authoritative guidance in a timely manner. Numerous studies show that particulate pollution can lead to serious and dangerous health concerns, including premature death in those with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung function. Ground-level ozone can also affect the those with asthma, young children and the elderly, the immune-compromised, and individuals who spend a lot of time outside.
Eliminating the expertise vital for making informed decisions is short-sighted at best. The approach of those committees helped give the public confidence that it is being protected from harm and the government has its best interest in mind. This assurance was swiftly removed.
The EPA has also barred scientists who received research grants from serving on its scientific advisory committees, but it has allowed those who hold industry-supported research grants to serve.
A year ago, in a letter to EPA’s Administrator, Scott Pruitt, 62 House members said the policy preventing scientists receiving EPA grants to serve is an “arbitrary and unnecessary limitation to disqualify preeminent experts.” The letter continued, “We are alarmed at the signal this sends about the EPA’s willingness to seek out objective, independent scientific expertise in fulfilling its mandate to protect the environment. The [Science Advisory Board] has been well-respected because of its historical inclusion of independent, objective scientists from both academic and industry backgrounds.”
Pruitt responded to the policy change, “Those advisory committees have given us the bedrock of science to ensure that we’re making informed decisions. And when we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rulemaking, that is not good and that’s not right.” He continued, “They are no longer going to be receiving grants from this agency. They will have to choose, either the grant, or service, but not both.”
The EPA also had plans to forbid the use of scientific research to inform rule making if the underlying raw data is not available for public review. Several reputable organizations objected to this, including The American Lung Association, Psychological Association, Heart Association and Medical Association.
The agency’s Scientific Advisory Board, created in 1978 by Congress, was formed to provide sound, science-based advice to the EPA administrator, and has been largely effective over the years, making the recent restructuring seemingly unjustifiable. Without advisory panels, information disseminated to the public may be biased, inaccurate, or only half-heartedly researched. And, this means, the public could be needlessly exposed to significant dangers.