Subcommittee on Environment Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah) today introduced legislation to reform the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) scientific advisory processes. The bill, H.R.1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013, makes changes to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to enhance public participation, improve the process for selecting expert advisors, expand transparency requirements and limit non-scientific policy advice.  Original cosponsors of the bill include: Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Vice Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Chairman Emeritus Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.).

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Stewart: “Through the EPA, the Obama Administration is aggressively pursuing costly regulations that impact nearly every sector of the American economy. Most of these rules are based on controversial scientific assertions and conclusions, so it is critical they be reviewed by a balanced panel of experts in an open and transparent manner.  This bill directs EPA to undertake reforms to do just that.”

Chairman Smith: “Time and again, we see instances where American businesses are unnecessarily harmed by the EPA’s regulatory and political agenda.  The changes in this bill will help to ensure that multi-billion dollar rulemakings are based on good science and hard fact, rather than fiction. The bill also makes sure that EPA regulations are reviewed in a balanced and transparent manner.”

The Members’ SAB reform effort builds on similar legislation introduced in the 112th Congress. The Committee plans to mark up the measure on Thursday, April 11 at 10:00 a.m.

At a March hearing on the legislation, Rep. Stewart emphasized that these reforms will help instill confidence in EPA regulatory science, saying that the EPA’s credibility suffers when the Agency’s scientific process is viewed as being biased or one-sided.

Established by Congress in 1978, the SAB plays an important role in reviewing the scientific foundation of EPA regulatory decisions and advising the Agency broadly on science and technology-related matters.

Criticisms of the current advisory process include:

  • According to the Congressional Research Service, almost 60 percent of the members of EPA’s standing scientific advisory panels directly received National Center for Environmental Research grants from the Agency since 2000.  These advisors served as investigators for grants representing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. And the research they are being asked to independently review is often directly related to the grants they received.
  • Private sector industry expertise on panels is typically minimal, and in some cases is entirely excluded, despite existing statutory requirements that membership “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”   
  • Many panel members state strong policy preferences in areas they are being asked to provide impartial scientific reviews, and in certain cases advisors review EPA products based on their own work.
  • Public participation is limited during most SAB meetings, and virtually no ability exists for interested parties to comment on the scope of SAB reviews.

To address these shortcomings, H.R. 1422:

  • Strengthens public participation and public comment opportunities.
  • Improves the make-up of SAB and its sub-panels by reinforcing peer review requirements regarding balance and independence.  The bill also reduces potential conflicts of interest by requiring enhanced disclosure of members’ financial relationships relevant to board activities.
  • Requires opportunities for dissenting panelists to make their views known.
  • Requires communication of uncertainties in scientific findings and conclusions.
  • Limits non-scientific policy advice and recommendations, while requiring explicit disclosure of such advice when SAB feels compelled to provide it. 

These provisions draw upon recent recommendations from the Keystone Center’s Research Integrity Roundtable, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and other stakeholders, as well as relevant testimony received by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology during the 112th and 113th Congresses.