Congress Needs to Undo EPA’s “Science Massacre”

COMMENTARY Agriculture

Congress Needs to Undo EPA’s “Science Massacre”

May 20th, 2021 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Daren Bakst

Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy Studies

Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan, pictured here on Dec. 19, 2020, in Wilmington, DE. Joshua Roberts / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

EPA Administrator Michael Regan dismissed all of the advisers from two legally required panels.

Regan is looking into the Trump administration’s interference in EPA science. This hypocrisy seems to be lost on the Biden administration.

This is just an obvious pretext for trying to put environmental extremists on the boards.

For many on the left, sound science is sound only when it supports their ideological preferences.

We saw that during the Trump administration, when leftists opposed an Environmental Protection Agency transparency rule that would have helped the public to evaluate the credibility of the science used in rulemaking.

Now we are seeing it in the Biden administration.

The “EPA science massacre” took place just over a month ago. EPA Administrator Michael Regan dismissed all of the advisers from two legally required panels: the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.  It was a complete housecleaning, with not one person left standing.

This shocking move, which may not prove to be legal, certainly gives the impression, right or wrong, that Regan wants to hear only from those who will support President Joe Biden’s agenda. 

As it is, the legitimacy of these science advisory panels often is a matter of contention.  In this situation, any newly reformed advisory committees under this administration understandably will face significant questions of legitimacy.

A disclaimer: President Donald Trump’s second EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is now a colleague as a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, the parent organization of The Daily Signal.

John Graham, who had led the EPA’s disbanded Science Advisory Board, stated after the massacre: “Now for the first time in the agency’s 50-year history, we have an administrator interested in scientific advice only from those scientists he has personally appointed.”

Here’s the kicker: Regan is looking into the Trump administration’s interference in EPA science. This hypocrisy seems to be lost on the Biden administration; or more likely, Regan and others figure they won’t get called out on the hypocrisy.

And that’s just some of the hypocrisy.

The left criticized the Trump administration for adopting a narrow conflict-of-interest requirement that prevented current EPA grant recipients from serving on these boards.  But unlike the EPA science massacre, the Trump administration didn’t get rid of all science advisers en masse; it sought only to enforce a restriction to avoid potential conflicts.

Even for those disagreeing with the Trump policy, to support getting rid of all board members is pure hypocrisy.

But the Biden administration took this radical move, an action initially espoused by former EPA employees opposed to Donald Trump’s policies. 

One claim is that this conflict-of-interest limitation, struck down on procedural grounds by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, resulted in some people not having been considered for membership. And this apparently justifies getting rid of everybody on these two EPA science panels. 

Talk about overkill. This is just an obvious pretext for trying to put environmental extremists on the boards.

So what now?  Congress needs to do its job and block this attack on science.  This should include expressly prohibiting the action, such as through spending bills.  It also should mean that, in hearings, legislators constantly ask EPA officials, and other relevant officials, to justify such an unprecedented action at the agency.

In 2009, President Barack Obama issued a memo on scientific integrity in which he said “the public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.”

In one sweeping action, the Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has managed to undermine any trust in the science that will be connected to these newly formed advisory panels.  And this lack of trust would be warranted.

In general, EPA regulations have a major impact across the economy and society.  If the science that informs these rules is biased and not credible, then the rules themselves will be just as problematic. 

This will do a disservice to Americans and the environment.  That’s something all legislators should want to fix.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.