EPA's internal advisory board recommends investigating science behind auto emission rollback

EPA's internal advisory board recommends investigating science behind auto emission rollback
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) is recommending a review of the agency's decision to roll back a prominent Obama-era policy on auto emissions.

The independent group made up of researchers and scientists wrote in a May 18 memorandum first obtained by Bloomberg that the department's justification for changing the rule should be reviewed. as should a number of other EPA policy rollbacks.

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EPA announced in April that it will be changing the current federal standards for auto emissions, saying that levels determined under Obama are too stringent and unachievable, a move hailed by the fossil fuel industry and certain automakers but heavily criticized by environmentalists.

"The SAB should consider this action for review with regard to the adequacy of the supporting science," advisory group members wrote in the memo.

The board noted that their recommendations would be taken into consideration by EPA as it determines the new emissions standards.

Questions the group posed to EPA included asking what the repercussions to deploying the new fuel standard may be and how they could best be mitigated, and what the current barriers to consumer acceptance of "redesigned or advanced technology vehicles" are and how those could be overcome.

Additionally, the SAB would like to look into the agency's change in emissions requirements for certain older tractor-trailers known as glider vehicles. EPA in November announced that it was seeking to remove so-called glider trucks from a major regulation written in 2016 that restricted emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

Glider trucks are newly-built truck bodies in which manufacturers install old engines that are not subject to stringent emissions regulations.

The group recommended that EPA look more closely at the science behind the decision, noting that EPA told the group, "There is 'uncertainty about what scientific work, if any, would support' this action." The science advisers added that the agency had not described to them the approach being taken to develop the science needed to make the rule change or any planned peer reviews.

Scientists have heavily critiqued both regulation rollbacks for not being based on the best available science — an EPA mandate.

Two former EPA administrators called on Pruitt to scrap the planned changes to the Truck policy in March, writing in a letter, “Throughout our tenures as Administrators, our policy decisions were centered on the best available research and scientific protocols. We are deeply troubled that the Agency’s steadfast commitment to public health and environmental protection based on the best available science is being undermined — putting at risk air and water quality and endangering children and families.”

Their letter followed reports that a key study the EPA was relying on for its determination to change the rule was being rescinded by the university in charge of it.

The SAB is calling for all 44 members to consider the various issues, something they will formally vote on Thursday.

The board, created to give outside advice to EPA on issues related to science policy, has sought rule reviews in the past. However, science boards at the agency have been under fire since Scott Pruitt took over as administrator as the new administration questioned the impartiality of researchers and sought to include more industry voices in EPA's decisionmaking and advisory roles.

Pruitt additionally announced last year a new rule barring scientists currently receiving EPA grant funding from serving on an advisory board, citing conflict of interest.