New EPA Scientific Advisors Bring Balance

by Ryan Streams, Manager of Regulatory Affairs on November 21, 2017 - 9:01am

EPA recently announced new appointees to the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC). The two boards, which are required by law to provide independent advice to EPA, play a valuable role in how the agency collects, interprets, and applies scientific information. While the SAB advises EPA on a variety of topics, including agency studies like the hot-button hydraulic fracturing study, CASAC provides outside expertise during legally required reviews of National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Historically, many appointees to both panels come from universities and environmental organizations. Now, EPA is also adding voices from state regulatory agencies and those in the private sector tasked with implementing EPA rules.

New members from state regulatory agencies and the regulated community have firsthand experience dealing with EPA regulations. They’re well aware of the benefits, flaws and unintended consequences of regulations. By drawing beyond just academia and environmental groups, EPA is ensuring a more well-rounded peer-review and critique of the scientific information that underpins regulations.

One such new scientific advisor is Dr. Larry Wolk, who holds an M.D. and serves as Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer. Public health experts like Dr. Larry Wolk will provide EPA with direct expertise in protecting public health. Dr. Wolk has the background to evaluate scientific studies, including their capabilities and limitations.

For example, when a flawed study from the Colorado School of Public health made dubious claims linking leukemia to oil and natural gas development without accounting for patients’ medical history, Dr. Wolk issued an official statement calling the study “misleading.”  His reasoned response about an improperly conducted study helped neutralize the scare tactics from advocates and mitigate the bad policy outcomes that may have resulted otherwise. His actions illustrate why it’s important that EPA hear from a wide range of qualified voices as part of its peer-review process, not an echo chamber created by advocates based on flawed information.

The high caliber of advisors EPA is now turning to means that eminently qualified scientists with diverse technical backgrounds will be performing the scientific peer review underpinning our most important environmental regulations. The stellar credentials of the new appointees undermine critics’ accusations that EPA is “gutting” the boards and ignoring science. Their criticisms ring hollow when stacked up against the qualifications of Dr. Wolk and many of the appointees. 

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