McCarthy lashes out at Congress for targeting agency science

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy yesterday slammed what she called several attempts by Congress to undermine agency science.

In a call with reporters, McCarthy singled out legislation to make the agency’s science more transparent, reform EPA’s scientific advisory board and stipulate that biomass energy is “carbon neutral.”

“Congress is trying to legislate science,” the administrator said.

McCarthy’s defense of her agency’s science came shortly before the House approved an amendment to its fiscal 2016 spending plan for the Interior Department and EPA that would prohibit funds from going toward finalizing any regulation based on research that is “secret” or held in contravention of the Freedom of Information Act. The amendment by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) would also halt regulations if EPA’s scientific advisory board (SAB) fails to provide advice requested by Congress (see related story).

This congressional session, both the House and Senate have moved on pieces of legislation targeting EPA science.

The “Secret Science Reform Act” (H.R. 1030), which is separate from the House amendment, would prevent EPA from issuing rules that are based on science that isn’t “transparent or reproducible.”

A separate piece of legislation (H.R. 1029) targeting the SAB would add new peer-review requirements when it comes to balance and independence on the advisory board. It would also set a quota for state and local officials to be included on the panel, allow corporate interests to serve after disclosing conflicts of interest and add requirements for board members to respond in a written format to public comments.

The full House earlier this year passed both bills, while the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently sent the secret science bill (S. 544) to the Senate floor.

McCarthy slammed both as attempts to discredit agency science. She said the secret science bill would prevent EPA from proposing or finalizing “what we would consider to be our routine efforts” as well as force the agency to release health information publicly that should be kept private.

“It’s really not an approach that we would expect Congress to take,” she said, “and certainly not an approach that would benefit the science or public health and environment protection mission of this agency.”

The administrator also defended the scientific advisory board as working “extraordinarily well.”

The reform legislation, she said, “would weaken our ability to get the best scientists and our ability to have independence and the integrity of the science advisory board that we currently enjoy.”

Republicans have billed both measures as promoting scientific integrity at the agency.

McCarthy yesterday also said EPA is against a policy rider in the fiscal 2016 spending bill that promotes forest biomass is a carbon-neutral form of energy. The House legislation cites an analysis done by the Agriculture Department finding that U.S. forest carbon stocks “are stable or increasing on a national scale.”

The EPA chief called the rider “pretty disconcerting.”

“While we very much are in favor of recognizing sustainable forestry and the efforts that it provides to essentially lower greenhouse gases,” McCarthy said, “the language in the report basically seems to tell EPA what the outcome of our science needs to be instead of ensuring that we do rigorous science.”

EPA is currently considering whether to recognize biomass combustion as a way to comply with its Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.