[Marxism] Science Panel Staffed With Trump Appointees Says E.P.A. Rollbacks Lack Scientific Rigor
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Wed Jan 1 07:31:16 MST 2020
NY Times, Jan. 1, 2020
Science Panel Staffed With Trump Appointees Says E.P.A. Rollbacks Lack
By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman
WASHINGTON — A top panel of government-appointed scientists, many of
them hand-selected by the Trump administration, said on Tuesday that
three of President Trump’s most far-reaching and scrutinized proposals
to weaken major environmental regulations are at odds with established
Draft letters posted online Tuesday by the Environmental Protection
Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board, which is responsible for evaluating
the scientific integrity of the agency’s regulations, took aim at the
Trump administration’s rewrite of an Obama-era regulation of waterways,
an Obama-era effort to curb planet-warming vehicle tailpipe emissions
and a plan to limit scientific data that can be used to draft health
In each case, the 41 scientists on a board — many of whom were appointed
by Trump administration officials to replace scientists named by the
Obama administration — found the regulatory changes flew in the face of
A forthcoming rule on water pollution “neglects established science” by
“failing to acknowledge watershed systems,” the scientists said. They
found “no scientific justification” for excluding certain bodies of
water from protection under the new regulations.
They saw “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the
proposed rule” to roll back vehicle emission standards, a centerpiece of
the Obama administration’s effort to combat climate change.
As for the proposal to limit scientific data in health regulations, the
scientists wrote that “key considerations that should inform the
proposed rule have been omitted from the proposal or presented without
The letters come as the Trump administration contends with mounting
criticism that its policies have ignored, distorted or marginalized
scientific data at the expense of the environment, public health and
Legal experts said the advisory body’s opinion could undermine the Trump
administration’s rollbacks in the courts. “The courts basically say if
you’re going to ignore the advice of your own experts you have to have
really good reasons for that,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of
law with the Vermont Law School. “And not just policy reasons but
reasons that go to the merits of what the critiques are saying.”
Many scientists on the advisory board were selected by Trump
administration officials early in the administration, as President Trump
sought to move forward with an aggressive agenda of weakening
environmental regulations. During the first year of the Trump
administration, more than a quarter of the academic scientists on the
panel departed or were dismissed, and many were replaced by scientists
with industry ties who were perceived as likely to be more friendly to
the industries that the E.P.A. regulates.
“We are trying to give the E.P.A. the best science it can in order to
make decisions,” said Dr. Michael Honeycutt, the new head of the
E.P.A.’s scientific advisory board, who had a reputation at the Texas
Council on Environmental Quality for supporting policies that were more
lax than those pushed by the federal government.
“We’re all scientists,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve never
worked with a group of people more dedicated to trying to get the
science right. We take this very seriously.”
Corry Schiermeyer, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said on Tuesday that
the agency “always appreciates and respects the work and advice” of the
scientific advisory board, while noting that Tuesday’s letters are
drafts and could still be revised.
Some early critics of the Trump administration’s purge of the
advisory-panel members said on Tuesday that their judgments may have
been misplaced. Chris Zarba, who previously served as director of the
E.P.A. science panel, credited the group for insisting on doing a
comprehensive review of E.P.A. rules and said the work the group did
points to the importance of the board remaining independent.
“It certainly looks like they were raising some very serious issues. I
give them credit so far for stepping up and putting science first,” Mr.
Peter Wilcoxen, professor of public administration at Syracuse
University, said he took the criticism as a hopeful sign. “The people on
the board, regardless of what their affiliation was when they were
appointed to it, took their role of trying to have the agency do the
best science possible seriously. They weren’t on there just to try to
politically steer the board one way or another,” he said.
One of the primary problems, he said, is that the E.P.A., in an unusual
move, used a flawed economic model that had not been reviewed either
internally by federal agencies or in the academic literature. That model
found what Mr. Wilcoxen described as the “really improbable” results
that relaxing Obama-era gas mileage standards would lead to a
significantly smaller fleet of vehicles despite the model’s prediction
that the vehicles would be cheaper.
That assumption helped drive the Trump administration’s argument that
its rule would lead to fewer cars on the road and therefore fewer
“They ended up with this result that basically violated introductory
economics,” Mr. Wilcoxen said.
Ms. Schiermeyer, the E.P.A. spokeswoman, said the new auto pollution
rule “will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel
economy, reducing air pollution, and making new vehicles more affordable
for all Americans.”
Dr. John Guckenheimer, a mathematician at Cornell, was appointed in 2019
to the E.P.A. panel and worked on the analysis of the Trump
administration’s plan to replace the Obama-era water protection rule,
known as Waters of the United States. That rule defined bodies of water
subject to federal protection from pollution under the Clean Water Act
as major lakes and rivers.
But in a move that enraged farmers and lawmakers who represent rural
areas, it also applied regulatory standards to the smaller streams and
wetlands that drain into them, including seasonally intermittent streams
and underground water passages.
The Trump administration’s proposed replacement would strip away
protections from many wetlands, seasonal streams, and bodies of water
linked only by underground connections. Dr. Guckenheimer said that
proposal ignored the established science showing that even those
wetlands and underground streams have a significant impact on the health
of larger bodies.
The new proposal is “based upon speculation about what the courts will
decide, rather than really having much scientific substance,” he said.
Environmentalists welcomed the draft reports.
“They are saying that the Trump proposal is entirely untethered from the
scientific evidence, and that the scientific record for the rule that
the administration is trying to replace remains unrefuted and very
solid,” said Jon Devine, an expert in water policy with the Natural
Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “And any self-respecting
scientist is going to say that.”
Ms. Schiermeyer, the E.P.A. spokeswoman, wrote that despite the
scientific board’s findings on the impact of the water rule, the
administration was bound by the letter of the law, rather than science.
“The definition of ‘waters of the United States’ may be informed by
science, but science cannot dictate where to draw the line between
federal and state or tribal waters, as those are legal distinctions
established within the overall framework and construct of the Clean
Water Act,” she wrote.
In its review of a proposed effort to limit the science used to write
public health rules, the Science Advisory Board criticized the agency,
saying the E.P.A. “has not fully identified the problem to be addressed”
by the new rule.
Under the new effort, the E.P.A. plans to require that scientists
disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records,
before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. E.P.A.
officials called the plan a step toward transparency and said the
disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently.
But, the advisory board warned, some requirements of the proposal “may
not add transparency, and even may make some kinds of research more
Critics including scientific and medical groups have said the rule would
make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because
many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on
personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements.
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@NYTClimate on Twitter.
Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on
climate change, from the Washington bureau. She joined The Times in 2013
and previously worked at Congressional Quarterly, Politico and National
Journal. @CoralMDavenport • Facebook
Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington.
A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international
climate talks. @LFFriedman
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