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Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (1-6-03)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting environmental health and safety through its regulatory, enforcement, and remediation authority.  Ideally, these functions are based upon "sound science" research carried out by the agency's laboratories and other external facilities.  However, over the years the perception has developed that EPA's policies lack a strong scientific foundation.  In order to better understand why the agency has fallen short, the National Research Council performed an assessment of EPA's Office of Research and Development, Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research Management and Peer Review Practices, thatsuggests several ways the agency could improve.  A number of bills have recently been introduced in both houses of Congress that seek to improve the quality of science and the overall position of the EPA within the federal government.

Most Recent Action
The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report entitled Science to Support Rulemaking that looks at the agency's use of science in regulatory development. The report looked at 16 cases of rulemaking, the majority related to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, to identify the science supporting the agency's action. As stated in the executive summary: "Science played an important role in the rules, but that role was not always clear. Even though the rules included in this pilot study depended on hundreds of scientific documents, because the role of science often was not presented in a manner consistent with the conventions of communicating scientific information, it may be unclear what science was critical and why." The study also looked at the source of the science used in the rulemaking, noting that a majority of it was from EPA contracts and the private sector. Also discussed was the fact that the science used in rulemaking often was not independently peer reviewed. At the end of the report are comments submitted by divisions within EPA on the report's findings. (1/6/03)

On July 16th, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs held its third hearing on the possibility of elevating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cabinet level status. Two bills on elevating the EPA, H.R. 2438 and H.R. 2694, are currently under subcommittee consideration and differ somewhat in purpose. H.R. 2438, which was introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), redesignates the EPA as the Department of Environmental Protection. In contrast, H.R. 2694, introduced by Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA), couples elevation of the EPA with multiple institutional reforms. Chairman Doug Ose (R-CA) noted that, regardless of the legislation, elevation of the EPA to cabinet level status is still "largely symbolic" and will not change the agency's current size or overall function. EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and the Council of Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton were on hand as administration witnesses. Whitman voiced her support for elevating the EPA without reforms, saying that H.R. 2438 would put the US on par with European countries that have high-level environmental departments. Connaughton also supported elevation by noting that the EPA is held in high international regard and "produces initiatives of national significance that one expects of a cabinet department." Two private-sector witnesses also supported the elevation of the EPA, while a representative from the US Chamber of Commerce argued for a reform-minded bill like H.R. 2694. (7/24/02)

Current Congress
On March 29, 2001, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards held a hearing to receive comments about H.R. 64 legislation introduced by Subcommittee Chair Vern Ehlers (R-MI) to strengthen the role of science in regulatory decisions at the EPA by creating high-level positions to coordinate the scientific activities of the agency. Testimony was heard from three witnesses. The first witness, Dr. Raymond Loehr, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Committee on Research and Peer Review at the EPA, commented on the recommendations of a NRC report about strengthening science at the EPA.  Dr. William H. Glaze, Professor and Director of the Carolina Environmental Program at the University of North Carolina and Chairman of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, stated that H.R. 64 would improve the quality of decisions made at the EPA. Mr. Rick Blum, Policy Analyst for the Office of Management and Budget Watch, agreed that the bill would help to overcome some of the decision making problems at the EPA but believes that the bill does not clearly define the role of the proposed new position or address problems of how scientific knowledge gaps at the EPA will be filled. (4/6/01)

On June 21, 2001, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) sponsored a briefing on H.R. 64, the Strengthening Science at the Environmental Protection Agency Act.  Speaking at the briefing were Peter Saundry, Executive Director of the NCSE; Rep.Vernon Ehlers, Chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards and co-author of the bill; Ray Garant, Senior Associate for Environmental Policy at the American Chemical Society (ACS); Kerry Bolognese, Assistant Director of Federal Relations for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; and Lynn Schloesser, Chair of the Coordinating Committee on Environment, Technology, and the Economy for The Business Roundtable.

The bill seeks to establish the position of a Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a position that would be appointed by the President.  The objective of the provision is to improve science at the EPA by adding a central spokesperson for science within the agency.  As Ehlers articulated, the goal is to infuse science into the process of regulating, instead of adding science to regulations where appropriate, as is currently the case.  The current arm of science at the EPA is the Office of Research and Development (ORD), but each speaker expressed concerns about the office's overall quality and effectiveness.

Garant emphasized the importance of improving the quality of science at the EPA--long reputed to be subpar at times.  He recognized that the goals of science are often different from those of regulatory bodies, causing science at the EPA to become entrenched in bureaucracy. Bolgnese and Schloesser both addressed administrative weakness within the EPA that a central science administrator could improve.  The panel emphasized that a central science administrator could not only facilitate the improvement of science in general, but also address many of the smaller-scale administrative and communication problems plaguing the agency. (6/28/01)

Late on July 10, 2001, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, introduced legislation that would elevate the EPA to a Cabinet-level agency, renaming it the Department of Environmental Protection.  Boehlert characterized the agency's responsibilities as "too critical for the agency not to be an official part of the Cabinet."  Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced similar legislation, S. 159, into the Senate in January.  The agency currently has a sub-Cabinet status, but this type of legislation has been introduced in the past and failed.  Boehlert introduced similar legislation in 1988.  In 1990 President George H. Bush supported a bill to elevate the agency that eventually failed due to wrangling over additional provisions.  A 1994 attempt failed after Republicans attached language that would have required the EPA to perform a cost-benefit analysis for all proposed regulations.  However, H.R. 2438, the latest incarnation of the attempt to bring the EPA to the cabinet level, which most other government environmental agencies in industrial nations have, seems to be on the right track.  The current administration expressed its support for the measure the day after it was introduced.  The bill has also received support from other members or Congress and the environmental community, and has been referred to the House Government Reform Committee.  The news release about the bill is available at Rep. Boehlert's website. (7/13/01)

In a move paralleling Rep. Vernon Ehlers's (R-MI) attempts to improve science and operations at the EPA, Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced legislation on July 12, 2001, that would create a new high-level position within the agency to oversee research and science. S. 1176, the Environmental Research Enhancement Act, bears many similarities to the Ehlers bill (H.R. 64).  Both are in response to a National Research Council (NRC) report released last year that was critical of the EPA's use of scientific resources in making policy decisions.  Much like the House version, the Senate version seeks to create a deputy administrator for science and technology who would oversee the Office of Research and Development, the Science Policy Council, and other regulatory activities.  The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.  A news release announcing the Senate legislation is available at Voinovich's website. (7/13/01)

On July 24th, the Senate Committee on Government Affairs held a hearing to discuss a bill to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to a cabinet-level position.  The Department of Environmental Protection Affairs Act of 2001 (S.159), introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), outlines the technical details of adding the Department of Environment to the presidential cabinet.  Currently the US is one of the few nations that does not have an environmental secretary at the executive-cabinet level.  Similar legislation to elevate the agency has been introduced in the past and failed. The first Bush Administration, however, invited the EPA Administrator to sit on the cabinet, a trend that has continued to the present.  Elevating the EPA Administrator to a permanent cabinet postition will insure a par status with the other departments during future administration. (8/1/01)

Background
Following the release of the National Research Council's (NRC) report entitled Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research Management and Peer Review Practices, the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing on July 13, 2000, to discuss the report. The recommendations of the report included the creation of a high-level administration position to coordinate and oversee all scientific activities at the EPA. The administrator would be responsible for all aspects of the transfer of sound scientific and technical information into the agency's proposed policies or regulations. The report also details several ways the EPA Office of Research and Development could better maintain research program continuity, enhance research leadership and strengthen scientific communication within the agency and with outside entities. The report stressed the need for a peer-review policy to promote separation, objectivity, and independence between the reviewer and the project decision maker. In response to the recommendations of the report, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced legislation in the 106th Congress -- re-introduced in the 107th Congress as H.R. 64 -- to create a presidentially appointed position within the EPA with the title Deputy Administrator of Science and Technology as well as increase the term of Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development to six years with the additional title of "Chief Scientist of the EPA."

Other reports analyzing EPA practices have been issued by NRC in the past, as well as by Resources for the Future, EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB), and the General Accounting Office to name a few.



House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs
Hearing on EPA Cabinet Elevation: Agency and Stakeholder Views
July 16, 2002

The Bottom Line
On July 16th, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs held its third hearing on the possibility of elevating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cabinet level status. Two bills on elevating the EPA, H.R. 2438 and H.R. 2694, are currently under subcommittee consideration and differ somewhat in purpose. H.R. 2438, which was introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), would redesignate the EPA as the Department of Environmental Protection. In contrast, H.R. 2694, introduced by Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA), couples elevation of the EPA with multiple institutional reforms. Chairman Doug Ose (R-CA) noted that, regardless of the legislation, elevation of the EPA to cabinet level status is still "largely symbolic" and will not change the agency's current size or overall function.

Members Present
Doug Ose (R-CA) Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
C. L. Otter (R-ID) Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Hearing summary
Chairman Doug Ose (R-CA) began the hearing by addressing the two bills that would elevate the EPA to cabinet level status -- a "clean" H.R. 2438 without EPA reforms, and H.R. 2696 with EPA reforms. He noted that, whichever legislation is enacted, elevation of the EPA to cabinet level status is still "largely symbolic" and will not change the agency's current size or overall function. He did express concern over the EPA's current regulatory and management "inflexibility." He pointed to the states as environmental workhorses who need more flexibility when dealing with local problems. In his opening statements, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated his support for EPA elevation, but chided the Bush Administration for heading in the wrong direction by easing some regulations. He asserted that the climate is not right under the Bush Administration to elevate the EPA.

The first panel consisted of EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and Council of Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton. Both showered the EPA with praise, noting the important functions the agency performs. In her testimony, Whitman voiced her support for elevating the EPA without reforms, saying that H.R. 2438 would put the US on par with European countries that have high-level environmental departments. Connaughton's testimony also supported elevation by noting that the EPA is held in high international regard and "produces initiatives of national significance that one expects of a cabinet department." They both argued that elevating the EPA would send a strong pro-environment message to the world.

The second panel witnesses included J. William Futrell, President of the Environmental Law Institute; Wesley Warren, Senior Fellow for Environmental Economics, Natural Resources Defense Council; and William Kovacs, Vice President for Environment and Regulatory Affairs, US Chamber of Commerce. In his testimony, Futrell supported elevation bill H.R. 2438. He argued that a cabinet-level EPA would avoid being a "reactive agency" by better coordinating the more than 16 other agencies that have environmental jurisdictions. Warren also testified in support of H.R. 2438, noting that a clean bill is less likely to get bogged down with controversial reform provisions, as has happened in the past. Kovacs was the lone advocate for reforming the EPA, as in H.R. 2694. Touching on the EPA's lack of a legislative mission statement, his testimony called for basic institutional reforms to focus the EPA's actions.

In the question and answer period, Chairman Ose asked Whitman if the elevation of the EPA to cabinet level status would help the agency institute its new "results oriented" approach. Whitman replied that elevation is only ceremonial. She said that the institutionalization of the new approach will proceed regardless of whether the agency is elevated to cabinet level.

Rep. Otter asked Connaughton if a new cabinet level EPA would make the Council of Environmental Quality redundant and expendable. Connaughton answered no, that he wouldn't expect dissolution of the Council to happen.

Rep. Kucinich spoke in favor of elevating the EPA, but, like Waxman, scolded the EPA under the Bush Administration. Whitman responded to Kucinich's scolding by saying that the debate should be about how much value the US places on the environment, not about the policies of a certain administration.

-DBV


Hearing on S. 159, a Bill to Elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to a Cabinet-Level Department
Senate Committee on Government Affairs
July 24, 2001

Bottom Line
On July 24th, the Senate Committee on Government Affairs held a hearing to discuss a bill to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to a cabinet-level position.  The Department of Environmental Protection Affairs Act of 2001 (S.159), introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), outlines the technical details of adding the Department of Environment to the presidential cabinet.  Currently the U.S. is one of the few nations that does not have an environmental secretary at the executive-cabinet level.  The agency currently has a sub-cabinet status, but this type of legislation has been introduced in the past and failed.

Hearing Summary
Legislative attempts to elevate the EPA administrator to a cabinet position goes back more than a decade.  Previous bills have been weighted down with extraneous legislation that killed them on the floor.  However, S.159 (and H.R.2438, the House companion bill) the latest incarnation to elevate the EPA to the cabinet level - which most other government environmental agencies in industrial nations have.  Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-CT) express his strong support for adding the EPA Administrator to the cabinet.  By elevating the EPA, the government appears to be placing a higher value on environmental protection and would finally give the EPA the status and voice it deserves at the national and the international level.  Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) agreed that elevating the EPA status will ensure that environmental implications are front and center in all issues.

PANEL 1:
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) testified on the context and reasoning behind their legislation.  The Boxer-Collins bill would maintain the current EPA structure and system and simply elevate it to a cabinet status.  Boxer feels it is critical for the role of environment protection be on an even playing field with the other departments.  The bill is based on one introduced in the 103th congress by former Sen. John Glen (D-OH).  Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, introduced the House-companion bill in mid-July.  Boehlert characterized the EPA's responsibilities as "too critical for the agency not to be an official part of the Cabinet."

PANEL 2:
Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator of the EPA, agreed that elevating the agency is necessary and stressed the importance of keep the bill "clean" in order to pass it through Congress: "As I have said repeatedly, my aim for this agency is to leave America's air cleaner, water purer, and land better protected that when I took office.  I enjoy the full support of the President in pursuit of this goal.  Elevating the EPA to Cabinet-level status will assure that future administrators are able to set -- and achieve -- similar goals in the future."

PANEL 3:
The witnesses included: Carol M. Browner, former Administrator of the EPA; William K. Reilly, former Administrator of the EPA; and E. Donald Elliot, former general counsel for the EPA.

Browner expressed that this issue was long overdue and feels the American people hold the environment as a high priority.  She stated, "Making EPA a permanent member of the president's cabinet will guarantee EPA the stature and recognition it deserves and reaffirm its position of importance in the health and welfare of the American people and the world -- today and into the future."  Reilly expressed similar support for passing the EPA legislation and emphasized the importance of keeping it a "clean" bill.

Elliot shared the opinion of several senators that the role of science in the government and EPA needs to be better defined and felt a measure on science should be added to these bills.  He explained a Chief Science Officer (CSO) position is important to ensure science is heard and is a part of all top level decisions.  Others witnesses and senator felt a science position is necessary but should be dealt with after the EPA has a permanent cabinet position.  The concern is that if too much is added to the legislation, the bills will not make it through floor debate.

- MMW


Hearing on H.R. 64: A Proposal to Strengthen Science at the Environmental Protection Agency
House Science Committee Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards
March 29, 2001

Bottom Line
On March 29, 2001, the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards held a hearing to receive comments about the proposed legislation H.R. 64. The bill aims to strengthen the role of science in regulatory decisions at the EPA by creating high-level positions to coordinate the scientific activities of the agency. Testimony was heard from three witnesses. The first witness, Dr. Raymond Loehr, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Committee on Research and Peer Review at the EPA, commented on the recommendations of a NRC report about strengthening science at the EPA.  Dr. William H. Glaze, Professor and Director of the Carolina Environmental Program at the University of North Carolina and Chairman of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, stated that H.R. 64 would improve the quality of decisions made at the EPA. Mr. Rick Blum, Policy Analyst for the Office of Management and Budget Watch, agreed that the bill would help to overcome some of the decision making problems at the EPA but believes that the bill does not clearly define the role of the proposed new position or address problems of how scientific knowledge gaps at the EPA will be filled.

Hearing Summary
The first hearing of this newly named subcommittee was called by Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI) to discuss the problems that the EPA has in coordinating science among its various offices and how a bill -- H.R. 64 -- introduced by Ehlers could help solve these problems. Ehlers crafted the bill based on the recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) report Strengthening Science at the U.S. EPA that was released last year. H.R. 64 would create a presidentially appointed position within the EPA with the title Deputy Administrator of Science and Technology as well as increase the term of Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development to six years with the additional title of "Chief Scientist of the EPA." These measures are meant to help the EPA coordinate the scientific activities in the agency and enhance the use of science in the regulatory decision making process.

The first witness, Raymond Loehr, was a member of the committee that crafted Strengthening Science at the U.S. EPA. His testimony reviewed the findings and recommendations of the report. The first recommendation is the appointment of several scientifically qualified, high level officials to be responsible for coordination and maintenance of scientific activities within the agency. The second recommendation is for the position of Assistant Administrator of Research and Development to have a six-year term. Other recommendations of the report include giving the Office of Research and Development (ORD) research managers more flexibility in their program decisions, enhancing the ORD graduate fellowship and postdoctoral programs, maintaining a balance between problem-driven and core research areas, creating multi-year research agendas, and expanding research programs.

Dr. William H. Glaze is the Chair of the Executive Committee of the EPA Science Advisory Board. He testified in favor of H.R. 64, which he believes will enhance EPA's ability to integrate new science into regulatory decisions, and enhance the stature of the agency in the eyes of the public. Appointing a Deputy Administrator of Science and Technology with scientific credentials will have a significant beneficial effects on the quality of decisions made at the EPA. This person could ensure that the agency uses the best and most recent science as a tool in decision making. The bill would also elevate the stature of EPA scientists, encouraging personnel retention and continuity in the agency. With new scientific leadership, the EPA could examine its basic and applied research agendas to better align them with the regulatory goals of the agency.

Rick Blum of the non-profit organization OMB Watch, commends the goals of H.R. 64 but does not think it goes far enough to define the role of science at EPA decision making. He thinks the bill could be improved in several ways. First, it should be more explicit in integrating the information management aspects of the scientific process into the bill. Science is only a part of the regulatory decision making process. The EPA cannot always wait for scientific certainty when human health is at stake. Congress should also help the EPA fill scientific knowledge gaps by increasing the agencies control over environmental research across agency boundaries.

Ehlers asked the witnesses to comment on some of the criticisms the bill has received including that if H.R. 64 is passed this Congress the EPA would have trouble implementing the proposed changes while getting adjusted to the new administration. Another criticism has been that if science is given priority at the EPA the constant uncertainties stemming from the scientific process will stagnate regulatory decision making and undermine the agency goal of protecting human and environmental health. To the first point the witnesses agreed that it may actually be easier to implement a big change at the outset of a new administration. Further, a Science and Technology Administrator would help the Bush Administration fulfill its stated goal of bringing science to the forefront of the EPA regulatory process. To the second point, Glaze and Loehr said that they don't believe that the provisions of H.R. 64 would cause science to supplant other concerns, it would only enhance the current role of science at the EPA.

Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) supports H.R. 64 because he believes that science at the EPA has been weak, inefficient, and often ignored. But, he said there are also larger problems in the EPA administrative structure that need to be addressed. He recommends an audit of the EPA research facilities around the country to make sure that they are conducting useful science.

Other members questioned the effectiveness of H.R. 64 in improving the interaction of science with public policy. The important part of implementing the bill will be to appoint the right person as Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology.  The person must be effective in coordinating scientific activities and inserting science into the regulatory process where it would be of greatest use. Many of the members and all of the witnesses noted that any large changes to improve the use of science at the EPA would take time to implement properly and that the provisions of H.R. 64 are only the beginning of reform needed at the agency.

-MHP

Sources:  General Accounting Office, Washington Post, Environmental Protection Agency, Federation of American Scientists, E&Enews, Greenwire, Thomas website, and hearing testimony.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Summer 2000 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Audrey Slesinger, Spring 2001 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Mary H. Patterson, Summer 2001 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Interns Michelle Williams and Caetie Ofiesh, Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Intern David Viator, and Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted June 28, 2001; Last Updated: January 6, 2003


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