Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (5-26-04)
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 in 2000. The resulting report, Strengthening
Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research Management
and Peer Review Practices, suggests several ways the agency
could improve. The report stimulated legislation, yet to be
passed, to improve the quality of science and the overall position
of the EPA within the federal government.
The United States EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley told the press
on May 13th that she will investigate the Bush administration's proposed
mercury rule. Independent Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords led the call
for the investigation, aruging that the rule may violate the Clean
Air Act. Jeffords and six Democratic Senators have also voiced suspicions
that industry interests are prioritized in Bush's policies.
Following this trend, on May 25th, several former EPA officials criticized
the Bush administration's policy development methods at a press conference
organized by Citizens
for Sensible Safeguards. "The micromanagement of the EPA
from the White House is something I've never seen to this level,"
said Bruce Buckheit, former director of the EPA Air Enforcement Division.
Buckheit and other former EPA employees said that the administration
favors industry interests and has taken unprecedented and "potentially
illegal" actions. Criticisms involved several issues such as
the Clean Air Act New Source Review program and the administration's
regulation of hazardous air pollutants. A White House Council on Environmental
Quality spokesperson defended the administration's actions, stating
that they balance environmental and economic concerns. (5/26/04)
The White House Office of Management and Budget has released a report
mandated by Congress that evaluates the responsiveness of agencies
in Fiscal Year 2003 to public requests for correction of information
under the 2001 Federal Data Quality Act (FDQA). It also suggests changes
to improve the scientific accuracy and transparency of agencies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is thoroughly discussed
in the report, even though a relatively small number (13) of requests
for changes in EPA data were made that year. The only major policy
questioned under the FDQA during 2003 is an EPA rule regulating stormwater
pollution that exempts oil and gas well construction sites. The rule
was challenged by several Democratic senators and Independent Senator
Jim Jeffords (VT) based on the EPA's initial estimates of oil and
gas drilling. The EPA rejected the request for change, and plans to
reevaluate stormwater regulation of oil and gas drilling operations
are set for 2005.
The OMB report also cites instances of denial and inaction of the
Interior Department when confronted with information correction requests.
The report concludes that no definitive conclusion can be made regarding
the success of the FDQA, although improved information flow is one
apparent outcome. Some interests, such as the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, told E&E Daily that they are disappointed with the
response of agencies to the law (5/17/04).
For years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used an agency-wide
Science Inventory to catalog current and past science products and
activities. On November 18th, the Agency unveiled a searchable, Web-based
format for the database that the public can use. The EPA plans to
update the inventory as new information becomes available, making
it a dynamic tool for planning, managing and enabling collaboration
on environmentally related science that supports EPA's overall mission.
The Science Inventory is on the Internet at http://www.epa.gov/si.
Users can conduct keyword searches or can search within nine cross-cutting
science topics: aging initiative, contaminated sediments, ecological
assessment tools, genomics, tribal science, children's health, cumulative
risk, environmental justice and non-indigenous species. (11/26/03)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their new Human
Health Research Strategy on November 3rd. This plan will further
the Agency's mission to protect public health by identifying and prioritizing
the scientific research that will be conducted over the next five
to 10 years. Of interest to geoscientists is the Environmental Monitoring
and Assessment Program (EMAP), a long-term research effort to monitor
the conditions of estuaries, streams and lakes in select geographic
regions. Once the conditions of these resources are known, the Agency
can better plan its environmental protection and restoration activities.
Another ten-year plan details the research strategy for global change
research which will put more emphasis on assessing the consequences
of global change on human health, water quality, air quality and ecosystem
On September 9, 2003, the Bush Administration indicated for the first
time that it would support the restructuring of the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) during House
Government Reform Subcommittee
on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs hearing
on the Elevation of the EPA to Departmental Status. The hearing (the
5th to date on this matter) focused on two bills: H.R.
37 introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY) and H.R.
2138 introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Doug Ose (R-CA). H.R.
37 would simply transform EPA into the Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP), while H.R. 2138 would introduce some structural
changes. The latter would create three Offices (Policy, Planning and
Innovation; Science and Information; and Implementation, Compliance
and Enforcement), and establish a Bureau of Environmental Statistics
(BES) to collect and analyze environmental data.
Acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko and White House Council
on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton, speaking on behalf
of the Administration, acknowledged that the new structure would be
more manageable and allow for better coordination. They also said
that a BES would allow EPA initiatives to be based upon more sound
science -- a weakness for which EPA has been criticized in the past.
Subcommittee Ranking Member John Tierney (D-MA), on the other hand,
voiced concerns that EPA's "new" mission as written in H.R.
2138 would limit EPA's jurisdiction to "unreasonable environmental
risk," and that EPA elevation could become mired in a restructuring
debate. Additional misgivings arose about decreased public access
to information and about a new set of coordination problems that might
result from H.R. 2138. A longer discussion of the hearing is available
on the AGI hearings summary page for
this issue. (9/12/03)
On May 15, 2003, Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) introduced H.R.
2138 seeking to reorganize the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), raise it to cabinet-level
status, and rename it the Department of Environmental Protection.
The bill states that the current "stovepipe organization results
in the agency's inability to effectively address cross-media environmental
protection. The agency lacks adequate oversight and coordination of
its offices to ensure that science, policy and implementation are
integrated throughout the agency." To solve these problems, the
legislation would reorganize the EPA from offices directed at pollution
source and polluted media, to offices focused on broad goals, such
an Office of Policy, Planning, and Innovation; an Office of Science
and Information; and an Office of Implementation, Compliance, and
Enforcement. The science office would contain a Bureau of Environmental
Statistics to quantitatively analyze the state of the environment.
The legislation was referred to the House Government Reform Subcommittee
on Energy Policy, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, which
Ose chairs. According to E&E Daily, the bill is expected
to be placed on the calendar for mark-up in the near future. (5/22/03)
The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report
to Support Rulemaking that looks at the agency's use of science
in regulatory development. The report examines 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.
In January 2003, two bills relating to science at the EPA were reintroduced
from the previous Congress. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman
of the House Science Committee, reintroduced legislation (H.R.
37) that would elevate the EPA to Cabinet-level status and rename
it the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill was referred
to the Committee on Government Reform. Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-FL)
introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R.
347) to reinstate the Office of Ombudsman within the EPA. The
ombudsman position was merged with the Office of the Inspector General
in April of 2002, resulting in the resignation of the then-current
ombudsman in protest, and, according to Greenwire,
"an increased belief on Capitol Hill that the EPA is bent on
squelching any criticism." By creating a new Office of Ombudsman
that reports directly to the EPA Administrator, Bilirakis hopes to
allow the ombudsman to operate more independently. (2/3/03)
On May 21, 2003, the Senate unanimously passed S.
515, reinstating the ombudsman at the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and strengthening the
independence of the position. Sponsored by Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID),
the bill includes a number of measures to allow the ombudsman to act
as a more autonomous arbitrator, such as being appointed by the president
and confirmed by the Senate while reporting to the EPA administrator.
The ombudsman appointee must not have held a position at the EPA for
one year prior to the appointment and must have previous ombudsman
experience. The measure also allows the ombudsman to issue subpoenas,
hold public hearings, and speak freely with members of Congress. The
companion bill H.R.
347, sponsored by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL), is currently
in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous
Materials. Passage of S. 515 coincidentally occurred on the day that
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced she would resign from
her position in late June to spend more time with her family. (5/22/03)
On June 6, 2003, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy
Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs held a hearing
on two bills addressing the elevation of the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) to departmental level
37 and H.R.
2138. Introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY), H.R. 37 would elevate the EPA to department status
with no changes in structure or authority. H.R. 2138 was introduced
by subcommittee chairman Doug Ose (R-CA) and not only would elevate
the agency's status but also would alter its structure as well as
create a Bureau of Environmental Statistics. H.R. 2138's proposed
new structure for the EPA consists of three Under Secretaries overseen
by the Department Secretary, one of whom would be in charge of the
Science and Information Division. The proposed Bureau of Environmental
Statistics would operate within this division, though the bill may
stipulate that it have an independent director. The subcommittee heard
from scientists, professors, and policy experts, but no administration
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's conclusions. 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
In response to the recommendations of the report, legislation was
introduced the last two Congresses to elevate the EPA to a cabinet-level
position and create a high-level position to oversee research and
science. The goal was to infuse science into the regulatory process,
instead of adding science to regulations as an after thought. A
central science administrator would not only facilitate the improvement
of science in general, but also address many of the smaller-scale
administrative and communication problems plaguing the agency. Other
reports analyzing EPA practices have been issued by Resources
for the Future, EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB),
and the General Accounting Office
information on Science at the EPA from the 107th Congress.
Sources: General Accounting Office, Washington Post, Environmental
Protection Agency, Federation of American Scientists, E&E News,
Greenwire, Thomas website, House Science Committee and hearing testimony.
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern, Emily R.
Scott, 2003 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Ashley M. Smith, 2003 AGI/AAPG
Fall Semester Intern and Bridget Martin, 2004 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's Update
on Science at the EPA for the 107th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated on May 26, 2004