Lack of Impartiality, Conflicts of Interest Found Among Obama EPA Advisory Committee Members

Conflicts of interest and "political" science dominate CASAC membership
Conflicts of interest and “political” science dominate CASAC membership

It has been noted many times that President Barack Obama has been very effective in ensuring that his public policy priorities are espoused very closely by just about all who are appointed to serve in every capacity. While personnel is policy and those appointed can be expected to agree with the administration’s policies, there are advisory positions in the government where impartiality and transparency are extremely important. But this has not been with the case with those appointed to serve on the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, seeking answers to several questions regarding the process of appointing the current members to CASAC.

Stating that he had observed the “cherry-picking the same allies” for appointments to advisory boards such as CASAC, Sen. Inhofe calls into question the impartiality of the seven members recently appointed to CASAC. He further wrote, “As evidenced by EPA’s newly appointed CASAC members, this misguided and opaque process calls for renewed Congressional oversight.”

CASAC was created under the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments to advise the EPA on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and Section 109 of the Clean Air Act says CASAC shall be “composed of seven members including at least one member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one physician, and one person representing state air pollution control agencies.”

While the Clean Air Act requires that one of the members among the seven appointed to CASAC be a member of the NAS, Inhofe noted that not one of the seven members is from the NAS. While the board is supposed to included membership intended “to obtain fresh perspectives and reinforce the reality and perception of independence from the Agency.”

Among the current seven members appointed, four of them have served on CASAC already, and two of the other three have served on CASAC subcommittees, Inhofe cited in his letter to McCarthy. Most of those seven have received considerable research grants from the EPA, which clearly raises questions about their ability to independently give advice to the EPA. Six of those seven have received more than $119 million in research grants. Three of them have received more than $25 million in research grants. Among the 26 members of the CASAC subcommittee on particulate matter, 22 of them have received collectively more than $330 million in EPA grants.

Most of the seven members appointed have an academic background, conducting research related to environmental issues. The Chairwoman of the committee, Ana Diez Roux is a physician who is involved in research in the “multilevel determinants of population health.” George A. Allen is a senior scientist with Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) in Boston, Mass. Judith Chow, who is with Desert Research Institute, is a research professor in atmospheric science. Ivan J. Fernandez is a professor affiliated with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. Jack Harkema, of Michigan State University, is a University Distinguished Professor who is involved in research in the inhalation of airborne pollutants. Elizabth A. “Lianne” Sheppard, a professor at the University of Washington, is involved in research on the health effects to exposure to pollution. Ronald Wyzga, who is affiliated with the Electric Power Research Institute, has a background in research in air quality and risk, including air quality research on particulate matter, ozone, air toxics, and visibility issues.

Among the members of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), CASAC and subcommittees, 60 percent of them have received research grants from the EPA costing taxpayers more than $140 million. Many are involved in research, funded by those grants, while they are serving on their committees in a role advising the EPA on clean air policy.

At a time when the EPA is pursuing the most aggressive regulatory agenda in its 44-year history, its scientific review panels must have balance and impartiality. Unfortunately, conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency continue to plague CASAC, a panel intended to provide the agency with independent scientific assessments,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, told The Washington Times. “If EPA science appears biased, its credibility suffers. Transparency is necessary to assure Congress and the American people that EPA is basing its costly regulatory decisions on the best available science and not a predetermined regulatory agenda. We need good science, not political science, at the EPA.”

Clearly only one perspective and the same kind of background is represented among these seven members of the CASAC. There is no diversity of backgrounds among them, nor is there among those members representatives of any other stakeholders in clean air policy including citizens, small businesses, and others who would be affected by the regulations implemented as a result of the advice given by CASAC. Sen. Inhofe has every right to demand more transparency, more representation and not just the same perspective among the members of this important advisory committee.


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