GOP legslation will stab EPA in the back

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The Keystone XL pipeline debate dominated environmental conversation in November. In the end, the initiative for the construction of an oil pipeline going from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas failed by one vote in the Senate. However, a different bill, sponsored by Utah U.S. Congressman Chris Stewart (R), passed in the House by a 38 vote margin. Framed as a transparency bill, it changes how members of the Scientific Advisory Board, which advises the EPA on policy, are selected, making it easier for “industry experts” (corporate oil leaders) to be on the board. The law will have detrimental effects on the quality of research that makes its way to Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s chief administrator, because independent scientists will find it harder to present their own research to the board.

“[The current nomination process] excludes industry experts,” Texas U.S. Congressman Michael Burgess (R) said, “but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.”

With the law, “experts” will constitute a much larger section of the board and will be able to advise McCarthy in passing policies that benefit the oil industry. Since these “experts” have financial ties to environmental policy, the quality and integrity of information that is presented to Congress on serious environmental concerns will be hugely compromised. Real environmental scientists, whose careers are founded on thorough research and the publishing of peer-reviewed studies, will have less influence on EPA policy. Sadly, this is simply a continuation of the history of the creation of environmental policy in the United States.

As R. Shep Melnick, Ph.D. mentions in his book Regulation and the Courts: The Case of the Clean Air Act, undue influence on environmental policy in the United States has always had a presence. In 1979, the American Petroleum Institute pressured the EPA into weakening standards for ozone regulation using studies that did not meet scientific standards of proof and suggested no adverse effects on humans with 0.25 parts per million of ozone. The ozone panel on the board was largely immobilized, and human health suffered as a result.

Today, the science committees in Congress are still in a desperate state of affairs. Indiana U.S. Congressman Larry Bucshon (R), a member on the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology, is largely financed by Murray Energy, Peabody Energy and Koch Industries: three well-financed coal and oil energy conglomerates that contribute significantly to anthropogenic global warming, a demonstrated scientific phenomenon that Bucshon wholeheartedly denies. As long as financial ties to environmental policy exist, we will never be able to protect the planet.

The selection process for board members needs its integrity restored. The proper way to select members is to choose independent scientists who have spent their careers producing peer-reviewed studies with no hidden agenda. That, Mr. Stewart, is true transparency.

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