[Marxism] Science Panel Staffed With Trump Appointees Says E.P.A. Rollbacks Lack Scientific Rigor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
Scientific Rigor
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 
science.

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 
regulations.

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 
science.

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 
analysis.”

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 obligations.

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. 
Zarba said.

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 
planet-warming emissions.

“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 
difficult.”

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.

For more climate news sign up for the Climate Fwd: newsletter or follow 
@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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