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September 16, 2019

Committee Leaders Demand Answers from EPA on Agency’s Efforts to Systemically Weaken the Role of Science

Washington, D.C. – Leaders of the Energy and Commerce and Science, Space, and Technology Committees sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler today demanding answers for the Agency’s ongoing attempts to undermine and discredit the role of science. In October of 2018, EPA disbanded the panel of independent science experts that typically supports the work of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). The Committee leaders are concerned that without sufficient scientific expertise, CASAC will be unable to properly set the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) needed to protect Americans from harmful air pollutants.

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight Chair Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY).

“EPA – under your leadership – appears to fail to recognize the need for robust and independent scientific expertise despite requests from CASAC itself for additional resources,” the Democratic Committee leaders wrote to Administrator Wheeler. “In an April 8, 2019 letter to Chairman Pallone, EPA stated that it ‘believes that the current CASAC has the experience and expertise needed to serve in this capacity as well as to complete the reviews for the particulate matter and ozone NAAQS.’ CASAC itself flatly discredited this assertion just days later. In an April 11, 2019, letter to you, CASAC concluded that it lacked sufficient expertise in critical areas.”

EPA recently named 12 ad-hoc consultants to assist with technical questions, functionally rejecting CASAC’s requests and raising additional transparency concerns and questions regarding CASAC’s ability to provide an independent and comprehensive review for NAAQS. Several of the consultants have reportedly criticized strengthening clean air standards in the past on behalf of industry, including on behalf of the Utility Air Regulatory Group which disbanded earlier this year following an investigation by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

In light of the fact that EPA has failed to adequately respond to the concerns raised in previous correspondence and staff briefings with the committees, the Democratic Committee leaders are seeking documents and answers to a series of questions from Administrator Wheeler by September 30, including:

  • Why was the decision made to use a pool of consultants instead of using a panel of subject matter experts to review health impacts of two dangerous pollutants, particulate matter and ozone?
  • How will EPA evaluate, select and deploy candidates for the pool of consultants to provide advice to the CASAC, and will CASAC members or members of the public have any input into the selection process?
  • Has EPA conducted any analysis of how any of the recent changes it initiated may impact the CASAC’s ability to fulfill its statutory responsibilities?
  • Has Administrator Wheeler conducted a re-evaluation of any policies enacted by former Administrator Pruitt that affect scientific advisory committees at the Agency, including the October 21, 2017, directive that prohibits recipients of grants from serving on EPA advisory committees? 

The full letter is available here.