Monday, September 25, 2006

EPA top science adviser calls EPA head "disingenuous," and more fallout from soot scandal

We are still tracking the fallout from last week’s decision by the EPA to ignore its own science advisers in setting weak new particle soot air standards.

Below are a few of the interesting developments. We will continue to monitor this.

“Disingenuous” decision maker: We shouldn’t be too surprised that EPA’s independent science advisers would bristle at the brush-off they got from EPA chief Steve Johnson. But those advisers are speaking out forcefully.

Advisory committee chair Rogene Henderson told BNA Daily Environment Report that her panel would send EPA an unprecedented new letter re-stating their objections to EPA’s non-scientific decision.

You may recall that “career scientist” Johnson asserted during his spin session that EPA’s science advisers were divided. Henderson charged that Johnson was being “disingenuous” since 20 of the 22 science advisers believed EPA should have set tougher standards. (The two dissidents have industry connections – in fact, one of them works for General Motors!)

Another adviser, Harvard Medical School professor frank Speizer, told NPR’s “Living on Earth” that Johnson’s decision will mean “that at least as many people who died in 9-11 will die each year from air pollution in this country. It probably means that the political influence they're listening to has more weight than the scientific influence.”

Burying the body count? A new EPA report shows that as many as 30,000 premature deaths could have been prevented every year had EPA set tougher standards. But EPA did not tell the public about this new report, and the agency claims it isn’t relevant to the issue! As he did in ignoring the science advisers, Mr. Career Scientist ignored this additional evidence that clashed with the Bush administration’s preferred policy outcome. This new study, reported on in Friday’s E&E PM report, was brought to light by my very alert friends with Environmental Defense, who noted that EPA, without telling anyone, posted the results of the study to the internet:

ED says the report underscores that EPA’s action was "contrary to law, an abuse of discretion and arbitrary and capricious."

Rigging the next review? Those of you who have followed this issue closely will recall that the electric power industry has argued that its fine particle emissions are benign and should be treated differently than diesel and other traffic-related emissions. EPA appears to have gone out of its way in the preamble to its rule (pages 56-57) to praise the Electric Power Research Institute, which originated this “benign particle” theory: “The Administrator recognizes the work of the Electric Power Research Institute and agrees that additional research is important to improve future understanding the role of specific fine particle components and/or sources of fine particles.”

The question here: will EPA rely primarily on the obviously biased electric power industry for the next review of these standards? Or will it – as it should – make sure that additional research on this topic is done by an unbiased research center such as the Health Effects Institute? (EPA also alluded to HEI.)

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