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October 3, 2012

Committee republicans introduce EPA scientific advisory process reform bill

Joy LePree

U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Committee Members Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) introduced legislation to reform the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its sub-panels.

The bill (H.R. 6564) is aimed at strengthening public participation, improving the process for selecting expert advisors, expand transparency requirements and limit non-scientific policy advice.
“This bill contains basic, common sense reforms to deal with legitimate concerns about balance, impartiality, independence and public participation,” says Chairman Hall.

Established by Congress in 1978, the SAB plays a critical role in reviewing the scientific foundation of EPA regulatory decisions and advising the Agency broadly on science and technology-related matters.
Criticisms of the current advisory process include:
  • According to the Congressional Research Service, almost 80% of the members of EPA’s standing scientific advisory panels directly received National Center for Environmental Research grants from the agency since 2000. These advisors served as investigators for grants representing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. And the research they are being asked to independently review is often directly related to the grants they received.
  • Private sector expertise is often entirely excluded on panels, despite an existing statutory requirement that membership “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”
  • Many panel members state strong policy preferences in areas they are being asked to provide impartial scientific reviews, and in certain cases advisors review EPA products based on their own work.
  • Public participation is limited during most SAB meetings, and virtually no ability exists for interested parties to comment on the scope of SAB reviews.
Supporters of H.R. 6564, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2012, say the measure would address these shortcomings by:
  • Strengthening public participation and public comment opportunities.
  • Improving the make up of SAB and its sub-panels by reinforcing peer review requirements regarding balance and independence and reducing potential conflicts of interest by requiring enhanced disclosure of members’ financial relationships relevant to board activities.
  • Requiring opportunities for dissenting panelists to make their views known.
  • Requiring communication of uncertainties in scientific findings and conclusions.
  • Limiting non-scientific policy advice and recommendations, while requiring explicit disclosure of such advice when SAB feels compelled to provide it.
These provisions draw upon recent recommendations from the Keystone Center’s Research Integrity Roundtable, the Bipartisan Policy Center and other stakeholders, as well as relevant testimony received by the Committee on Science, Space and Technology during the 112th Congress.

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