EPA Science Processes in Need of Reform, Witnesses Say

Nov 30, 2011
EPA Science Processes in Need of Reform, Witnesses Say

Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to provide external perspectives on the need to reauthorize and reform science, research, and development activities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and to examine how such activities inform the Agency’s regulatory mission.

Witnesses outlined ways the EPA can increase the quality, usefulness, and objectivity of EPA science, focusing specifically on necessary changes to the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDA).  Originally enacted in 1976, ERDA authorizes EPA research and scientific activities, but has not been reauthorized by Congress since 1981.

“Thirty years of Congressional neglect and the aggressive and unjustified regulatory train wreck being pursued by this Administration make the time ripe to evaluate reforms to environmental science at the Agency,” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD).  “The right reforms to EPA R&D programs will not only improve trust in the science that informs regulatory decisions, it will also provide a framework to prioritize the most important functions and reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending elsewhere.”

Professor Susan Dudley, Director of the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, discussed how science is too often misrepresented at the EPA. “Current procedures for developing regulations addressing health and environmental risk blur the lines between science and policy, hindering not only public policy decisions, but development of scientific knowledge itself,” Ms. Dudley said.

Echoing such tendencies, Dr. Kenneth Green, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said “EPA’s use of science tends to systematically over-estimate the risks humans face from environmental exposures to pollutants such as particulate matter.”  This approach, Green continued, “leads to inefficient use of scarce public resources, and imposes regulatory burdens that may well do more harm than good.”

Dr. Alan Moghissi, President of the Institute for Regulatory Science, took it a step further, calling for EPA to increase transparency in the processes EPA uses in formulating regulations.  “The EPA and other regulatory agencies have the legal and ethical obligation to inform the public to the best of their ability the status of the science used in their regulatory decisions,” Dr. Moghissi said.  “The information must include assumptions, judgments, the inclusion of default data, and any other information that impacted the scientific aspects of their decision.”

Witnesses also made recommendations on how such issues could be minimized.  Proposing an independent body to conduct scientific assessments, Dr. Gary Marchant, Professor of Law at Arizona State University, stated that this recommendation “could enhance the utility and credibility of the scientific inputs into EPA’s regulatory decisions.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a November 17, 2011 Subcommittee hearing evaluating the process of how science from the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) is transferred to other program offices for use in developing and implementing regulations.