- - Monday, April 19, 2021

When Biden EPA chief Michael Regan arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency, he sent agency staff an email reaffirming his commitment to “scientific integrity as a core value at EPA.”

So what’s the first major action he took? He fired all EPA’s independent external science advisers.

It’s a sinister move that sets the table for all sorts of nefarious regulatory activity, especially on climate.

On March 31 and for the first time in history, a new administration — the Biden “listen to the science” administration — fired all the members of the EPA’s independent science advisory groups, including the statutorily mandated Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).

The agency announced it would reconstitute the two boards. In an email to its terminated advisers, it stated, “EPA aims to return to the agency’s well-established processes for bringing a balanced group of world-renowned scientific experts to these committees.” The EPA explained its decision by blaming the Trump EPA for “process irregularities” in how it had constituted the boards.

While that may sound reasonable if true, the next sentence let the cat of the bag: “An October 2017 directive by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that prohibited non-governmental recipients of EPA research grants from concurrently serving on EPA advisory committees.”

The “process irregularity” was the 2017 decision by the Trump administration to bar current recipients of EPA grants from serving as independent science advisers for conflict-of-interest reasons. In addition to the potential for being beholden to the EPA, research grantees on review committees could easily wind up reviewing (and rubberstamping) their own, colleagues’, or the agency’s work.

It was not a philosophical question.

During the Obama administration, members of CASAC had received hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants from EPA and then sat on review panels for their own work. Industry-affiliated reviewers had all but been banned from serving on the panels, and a panel could be as more than 90% comprised of EPA grantees.

The Trump anti-corruption policy was key to reining in EPA. For example, the far more balanced Trump era CASAC advised Administrator Andrew Wheeler that there was no scientific justification for tightening the national air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter — the most powerful and costly regulatory tool that the EPA wields. Based on CASAC’s advice, both standards were left untouched after a statutorily mandated review.

Now, however, the Biden EPA will be free to restock its science advisory boards with grantee cronies just like the good days, and the results could be devastating to our economy.

As reported on The Wall Street Journal editorial page recently, the Biden EPA may decide to tighten ground-level ozone standards as a back-door way to regulate carbon dioxide and fossil fuels. That decision would rely on advice from the new Biden EPA CASAC.

If the members of CASAC picked by the Biden team are anything like the ones picked by the Obama team, they could very well determine that there is no safe exposure to ozone and so the national air quality standard should be set to as low as zero. Under the Clean Air Act, the setting of this standard is exclusively based on public health and cost is not to be considered.

The nightmare scenario, then, is that all states are thrown out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, and the EPA becomes the de facto state economic regulator, dictating to states what emissions they are allowed. This situation could go on forever, since a substantial amount of ozone is naturally-occurring. Yes, Ronald Reagan was correct about the trees emitting ozone.

Unlike, say, the Obama Clean Power Plan, a draconian ozone standard would likely survive judicial review as federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court don’t seem to be too interested in the science behind the regulatory sausage and tend to defer to the judgment of agencies like EPA.

It remains to be seen who the Biden EPA chooses for its “independent” science advisory boards. But three months into the Biden administration doesn’t give one much hope for anything but the worst.

• Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com, is the author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA” and served on the Trump-Pence EPA transition team. 

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