The attack on science by this administration is not news at this point. Part of that attack has been to increase the number of industry scientists on EPA's Science Advisory Board. I have no objection per se to additional industry representation on the SAB; a lot of good science gets done by industry. There are dangers, though. When Tony Cox, who is neither a statistician nor an epidemiologist, is able to drive the SAB to take the position that epidemiological studies should not be the basis for setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards, reasonable people begin to worry.
It's thus both comforting and important to note that the SAB last week rejected the science behind perhaps the two most significant deregulatory actions that this administration has taken. On February 27, the SAB criticized the technical justification for the "Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule," i.e., the roll-back of the Obama administration's fuel efficiency standards. The SAB noted that "there are significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule," finding that EPA's model "generate(s) implausible results."
The very same day, the SAB went even further with respect to EPA's revised WOTUS rule. Although still written in dry scientific jargon, the SAB's WOTUS letter was positively scathing. Among the criticisms:
The proposed Rule does not fully incorporate the body of science on connectivity of waters.
There is no scientific justification for excluding connected ground water from WOTUS if spring-fed creeks are considered to be jurisdictional.
The proposed Rule excludes irrigation canals from the definition of WOTUS. Biological and chemical contamination of large-scale irrigation canals presents a documented and serious risk to public health and safety.
I could – and the SAB does – go on.
On the WOTUS rule, the SAB also subtly takes on EPA's legal defense of the rule. Without wading into EPA's analysis of the federalism issues, the SAB notes that the statute's overall objective is "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." In other words, if EPA ignores the science, it's ignoring the statutory objective.
In any case, while we can all fret about the long-term viability of the SAB under the Trump Administration, the SAB deserves plaudits or speaking truth to Power on these two critically important rules.
Whether Power listens in either case is another matter. I'm not optimistic.
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