Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to review research and development (R&D) activities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and how such activities support EPA program needs. Witnesses provided testimony on the process of how science from the Office of Research and Development (ORD) is transferred to other program offices for use in developing and implementing regulations, and discussed the possibility of changes to the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Act (ERDA), which authorizes science activities at EPA.
“EPA is a unique agency in that it performs the functions of the scientist, the policy maker, the regulator, and the enforcer,” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “In the current economic climate and given the EPA’s breadth of jurisdiction over the economy, the Agency must be vigilant in ensuring that it only promulgates regulations that are necessary and appropriate to protect public health and welfare.”
Harris continued, “Quality science is an essential requirement in creating these regulations. Yet time and again, EPA’s scientific justification for many of its rules and regulations have been questioned based on concerns with data quality, peer review, lack of transparency and other process problems. It has gotten to the point where the perception is that EPA has a penchant for pursuing outcome-based science in order to validate its regulatory agenda.”
Several independent reviews throughout the years have contained recommendations on how EPA can alleviate these problems. “Unfortunately,” Chairman Harris said, “many of these recommendations have not been followed, and all too often Congress has been absent from these reform efforts.”
Mr. David Trimble, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified today, discussing a number of areas where EPA has failed to implement recommendations, highlighting a lack of coordination and possible mismanagement at EPA laboratories. Mr. Trimble said that “EPA does not have accurate, reliable information regarding (1) the need for facilities, (2) property usage, (3) facility condition, and (4) facility operating efficiency—thereby undermining the credibility of any decisions based on this approach.”
Mr. Trimble outlined several recommendations GAO made in its July 2011 report on EPA’s laboratory enterprise. GAO recommended that “EPA develop a coordinated planning process for its scientific activities and appoint a top-level official with authority over all the laboratories, improve physical and real property planning decisions, and develop a workforce planning process for all laboratories that reflects current and future needs of laboratory facilities.”
Testifying on behalf of EPA, ORD Assistant Administrator Dr. Paul Anastas said that “in general” the EPA agrees with the GAO’s recommendations. Dr. Anastas outlined several ways the Agency will work to implement those recommendations and improve how the Agency develops and disseminates science.
EPA Inspector General Mr. Arthur Elkins, Jr. further discussed the need for more rigorous scientific review and improve how staff reports instances of misconduct. “Since EPA decision-making relies on science, it is critical that EPA’s scientific and technical activities be of the highest quality and credibility,” Mr. Elkins said. “ORD should improve how it evaluates the effectiveness of its policies and procedures for scientific integrity and research misconduct.” Mr. Elkins noted that ORD does not test its policies and procedures and speculated that instances of misconduct are likely not reported because “staff lacks awareness of key criteria and reporting requirements necessary to identify and report misconduct.”