Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stacking the Deck at EPA

Smith and Stewart are outraged by a proposed EPA rule – the “Water Body Connectivity Report” – that would remove the limiting word “navigable” from “navigable waters of the United States” and replace it with “connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters” as the test for Clean Water Act regulatory authority.

“Connectivity” is the latest meaningless science buzzword for a meticulous study of the presence and mechanisms of water connections that can’t quantify their significance for downstream ecological integrity. That’s voodoo science, pure and simple.

If approved, the new rule would give EPA unprecedented power over private property across the nation, gobbling up everything near seasonal streams, isolated wetlands, prairie potholes, and almost anything that occasionally gets wet.
The EPA has long struggled to expand it's control over things wet because of the word "navigable waters", which, as I understand it, was put in the original Clean Water Act by the legislature, not the subsequent regulations. If it hadn't been in the legislative language, they'd have changed it long ago, trust me. I don't see how their changing the regulations can alter the underlying words of Congress.

As we all know from James Burke's most excellent TV documentary series "Connections" (and the subsequent  book), everything is connected to everything else. However, from a practical point of view, you have to draw lines somewhere, or you'll end up with the EPA controlling everything?

Wait, wasn't that the point?

The other objection in the article is to the process by which EPA obtained institutional support for changing the regulations, though its Science Advisory Board (SAB):
The law requires that the SAB must be free of conflicts ofinterest, unbiased, and transparent. Don’t expect any of that because the reality is the SAB is rigged, biased, and riddled with conflicts of interest – and the agency’s vetting of board candidates was corrupted by McCarthy.

The SAB does not do science. Odd as it sounds, the board just reviews a review. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development has already conducted a scientific literature search, picking its preferred studies for review by the SAB.

Although the EPA’s “Handbook for Members and Consultants” says, “The SAB staff office vets candidates for conflicts of interest or appearance of a lack of impartiality,” McCarthy clearly hand-picked the 27-member panel from a list of more than 125 candidates.

As a result, nearly 90 percent of the “independent” panel comes from the federal government, academia, or Big Green, including the Environmental Defense Fund and Nature Conservancy.

McCarthy allowed no industry-friendly scientists on the panel, despite the presence of nominees from Weyerhaeuser, Atkins North America, Air Liquide, ARCADIS U.S, and Houston Engineering.
And then goes on the produce a long list of the scientists on the SAB who have received grant funds from the EPA.

I don't think this is entirely fair; given the way academic science is funded today, it would probably be very difficult to find a scientist with any experience in the field at hand who has not had EPA funding. They've probably mostly had funding from private industry that may have interests opposed to EPA as well.

Nevertheless, this illustrates a deep problem with the agency/academy/researcher relationship.  The agencies need to have reviewers, but of course, they have a ready stable of researchers who work on the issue at hand, and who they have, at least at some point, deemed worthy of support.  The scientists, for their own sakes, find it very difficult to deny EPA it's wishes, even if they wanted to, which is doubtful, because the vast majority of them are strong believers in the need for greater environmental regulation.  Nope, no conflict of interest there; one would have to characterize it as a confluence of interests.

As for the exclusion of dissenting voices from industry who do not depend on EPA funding, but are rather the target of the proposed regulations, and to have substantial economic stakes in it?  Shocked, I'm shocked.

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