How to fight bad science infiltrating the EPA

How to fight bad science infiltrating the EPA
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Scientific integrity is under attack by the U.S. EPA. Why has the erosion of clean air and water regulations become the norm? What good comes from reversing environmental protections and basic scientific integrity? What can your vote on Nov. 6 do about it?

For months, EPA’s Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has been dismantling the agency by stacking the EPA Advisory Board nominees with fossil fuel industry allies who have dubious credentials. Meanwhile, Wheeler has cut mainstream scientists and disregarded sound science.

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Wheeler relies on the White House’s biased, political agenda of deregulation to justify rolling back environmental protections.In the last 100 days, he has disbanded one EPA advisory panel on air pollution and stacked another with industry allies. He’s rolled back Clean Car emissions standards, proposed to replace the Clean Power Plan's limits on carbon emissions with a rule that favors the coal industry and threatened to scrap the mercury-limiting air toxics rule despite its proven public health benefits. Congress has done nothing to stop him.

His infamous predecessor, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTime to stop letting fossil fuels run Washington Senate should reject Trump’s radical nominee to key energy panel Trump EPA official indicted in Alabama MORE, made lots of noise about challenging scientific principles that undergird clean air and water protections. He also entertained contriving a climate debate that had even this White House worrying. One of his own advisors complaining that it made no sense. Implying preconceived conclusions through a “red” and “blue” team “debate” on climate change misunderstands scientific inquiry itself, which knows no political party, nor should it.

Yet, Wheeler is quickly and quietly intensifying and realizing Pruitt’s anti-science agenda.

In mid-October, Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, disbanded EPA’s advisory panel on particulate matter — emissions that can lead to lung cancer. He then stacked EPA’s primary air pollution advisory panel, known as CASAC (Clean air Science Advisory Committee), with industry-disposed scientists. This panel advises EPA on the safe level of air pollution. The panel had previously been balanced with respected academics, industry professionals, and non-profit science groups. Not any longer. One of the new appointees claimed that researchers overplayed the dangers of air pollution and reduced smog would not benefit public health. Another said fine particulate matter, or soot, is not linked to lung health.

Currently, Wheeler is about to select new, like-minded members to EPA’s Science Advisory Board, and among his choices are:

Would they have Americans think it’s safe to smoke cigarettes? That is Scott Pruitt’s red team/blue team debate idea, only worse: it’s for all clean air issues, not just climate. And there’s only one team: red.

If he is successful, Wheeler effectively could select the counselors to Philip Morris, Exxon Mobil, and coal giant Murray Energy to help review and filter the public health data that EPA considers. The fox is not just guarding the henhouse, it’s inviting the wolves to come in. 

Andrew Wheeler’s crusade to dismantle health and safety regulations will have dire consequences in the real world. To be clear: scientists, including those at EPA, widely agree that smog can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, while soot is linked to lung cancer and other deadly conditions, and mercury is, indeed, a neurotoxin that can harm a developing fetus. But regularly those scientific voices are being silenced in favor of the industry voices.

Millions of Americans’ health is at stake, and his next actions to stack the EPA’s Science Advisory Board could bring more erosion of public health standards and more risk to vulnerable communities and our children. Despite, our constitutional system of checks and balances, Congress has done little to stand in the way of this anti-science crusade to undermine EPA. 

While EPA is taking public comment on the Science Advisory Board nominees until Nov. 7, the best way to stop Wheeler from undermining scientific integrity is one day earlier, November 6, at the polls, by electing a Congress that will stand up for science. 

Mike Mikulka is President of AFGE Local 704 and spokesman for Save the US EPA Campaign.