Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Senate Hearing On Science and Environmental Regulatory Decisions

May 7: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Subcommittee on Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, and Children’s Health Protection held a hearing on "Science and Environmental Regulatory Decisions." Full committee Chair, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), serves as Chair of the Subcommittee. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: George Gray, PhD., U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and representatives of the Union of Concerned Scientists; Covanta Energy Corporation; George Washington University; New York University School of Medicine, Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine; a Private Advisor on Toxicology and Human Health Risk Analysis; the Gradient Corporation; and Environmental Defense Fund.

Senator Boxer issued an opening statement saying, "EPA was created by President Nixon as an independent agency, designed to protect families, children, and our natural environment from harm. Unfortunately, what we will hear today is that the Bush Administration is discarding the best available science, and instead is seeking the advice of special interests that would benefit from weak environmental standards. A clear pattern has emerged at EPA. When it comes to who wins and who loses, time and time again, the polluting special interests come out on top, at the expense of the health of the American people. . .

"EPA has a special children’s health advisory committee, because children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of pollution. This important scientific advice has been repeatedly ignored by the agency. For example, the agency refused to follow that Committee’s proposals to better protect children from smog pollution, toxic fine soot pollution, lead contamination in air, and perchlorate contamination of tap water -- all of which are especially dangerous to children. . ." She recounted several examples of the "Administration’s rejection of scientific advice."

Finally, she said, "And just in the last few days, a senior EPA appointee, Mary Gade, told the Chicago Tribune she was forced to resign for aggressively pursuing the cleanup of a dioxin-contaminated site in Michigan [See WIMS 5/2/08, and related article below]. The Bush EPA is failing to meet its mandate to protect public health as an independent, science-driven institution. The American people are paying the price with their health. This is an unacceptable pattern, and it must be reversed."

On May 2, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Subcommittee, sharply criticized the Bush Administration for repeatedly putting politics before science at the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney and Attorney General who was deeply involved in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the Administration’s firing of several U.S. Attorneys, issued a lengthy statement on the Senate Floor saying Ms. Gade’s resignation “seems like déjà vu all over again from an administration that values compliance with a political agenda over the best interests of the American people.”

Full Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) also delivered an opening statement indicating that,"Too often the environmental policy decisions made by EPA and other science-based agencies are driven by political or personal agendas. You see this in types of research that gets funded or the types of grants that get awarded. It is my hope that this hearing will help shed some light on how science is used by policy-makers and that we can arrive at some concrete suggestions for making the process better."

He said, "More science means better decisions—more defensible decisions. . . However, in the rush to try and dissect these individual cases and lay blame on whether science was adhered to properly or not, the bigger picture message gets lost. Our air is cleaner than it ever has been before; the levels of the six criteria pollutants are continuing to decline, air toxics monitoring is expanding and reductions in benzene, acid rain, and haze are contributing to significant improvements in air quality and environmental health.

"However, despite these improvements, in the last 2 years, EPA has significantly strengthened or proposed to strengthen 3 of the 6 criteria pollutants, all driven by citizen suits and court ordered deadlines, and the agency once again has been attacked by stakeholders on both sides for doing so. Reduction levels are now being debated so intensely and at such marginal levels that one must stop and consider if there ever will be a level requisite to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety that will satisfy the critics. Instead, we are left with a brand new web of economic burdens that we are passing on to the states, many of which are just now beginning to make real improvements from the previous strengthening. What we have are more environmental regulations hindering environmental progress.

"I am pleased to recognize Dr. McClellan, a past Chair of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, who has detailed the many flaws and questionable approaches taken in justification of the recent final ozone rule, as well as the 2006 PM rule and others. I look forward to his comments on how the science panel often no longer offers its judgment of the scientific integrity of the process, but its policy opinions."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, opening statements and a webcast (
click here). Access a release and floor statement from Senator Whitehouse (click here). [*All]