- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002


The House yesterday moved to give scientists a bigger say at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been assailed by industry and environmental groups for not giving enough weight to science in its rulings.

"Science should be at the beginning, middle and end of the agency's decision-making process," said Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, Michigan Republican, a former university physics teacher who sponsored the legislation. He said that people currently seeking either more or fewer environmental rules doubt that the EPA uses science appropriately.

The legislation, passed by voice vote, creates a new deputy director for science and technology to coordinate scientific research at the agency. It also gives the head of the EPA Office of Research and Development the additional title of "chief scientist," and gives that official a five-year term to ensure the continuity of scientific work across administrations.

Mr. Ehlers said that a longer set term for the chief scientist would decrease political pressures on the office. The bill must still be considered by the Senate.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has expressed opposition to the legislative effort to create a new high-level position. Mrs. Whitman has already taken steps to designate one of her top assistants as her science adviser and has moved aggressively to expand the use of sound science in decisions, said agency spokeswoman Steffanie Bell. She said Mrs. Whitman had requested $627 million for the Office of Research and Development in fiscal 2003, up $35 million from the amount granted this year.

The National Academy of Sciences, in a 2000 report, said the agency's scientific practices have been criticized frequently since it was established in 1970. NAS also said that, despite some improvements, there was "a continuing basis for many of the scientific concerns" about the regulatory process.

Such concerns have been expressed by environmentalists and those affected by EPA regulations, particularly during the transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said in Senate hearings last year that an ongoing effort to make the EPA a full Cabinet-level department must be accompanied by assurances that the agency makes decisions based on science rather than politics. He said Alaskans were "being held hostage" by EPA rules influenced by radical environmentalists.

Also last year, the Bush administration, citing inconclusive science, revoked a Clinton administration rule to reduce the levels of arsenic in drinking water. Seven months later, after another study, the Clinton rules were adopted.

Environmentalists have accused the EPA of depending too heavily on industry figures concerning pesticides, global warming and lead pollution. The White House has rejected an EPA study showing the levels of emissions controls needed to protect human health and the environment.

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