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Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (1-25-05)

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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.

Recent Action

Legislation is expected to be introduced and considered by the 109th Congress in the near future. Please check back soon for updates.

Previous Action


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'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 decision maker.

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 .

In January 2003, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, reintroduced legislation (H.R. 37), which would have elevated the EPA to Cabinet-level status and rename it the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill was referred to the Committee on Government Reform. 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 status: H.R. 37 and H.R. 2138. H.R. 37 would have elevated 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 would also alter its structure as well as create a Bureau of Environmental Statistics. HR 2138 and HR 37 were referred to the Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, where the two bills died with the end of the 108th Congress. Boehlert and Ose may seek to reintroduce the bills in the 109th Congress.

Additional information on Science at the EPA from the 108th 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 David R. Millar 2004 AGI/AAPG Fall Semester Intern

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on Science at the EPA for the 108th Congress.

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

Last updated on January 25, 2005.


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