New Senate chair to probe EPA air policy
WASHINGTON - The Senate's incoming environmental committee chairwoman on Friday criticized a new EPA policy that reduces the role of scientists in setting air pollution standards.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the policy politicizes decision-making and may run counter to the Clean Air Act. She said it will be the focus of her first oversight hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Democrats take control of Congress next month.
"EPA has taken a dangerous turn in this plan. Instead of basing health standards on the best science they will now inject politics into the entire process, basically from start to finish," Boxer told reporters.
An EPA official said the new process would streamline a cumbersome review process and adhere to the highest scientific standards.
"Under the old process EPA never met congressionally mandated deadlines for setting air quality standards, under the old process scientific and policy judgments were intermingled, under the old process the science was two-years-old by the time it got to the administrator," said Deputy EPA Administrator Marcus Peacock.
At issue are standards for the six most dangerous air pollutants: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and lead. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review standards for those pollutants every five years.
Under the current process, career EPA staffers compile scientific information on the pollutants that is reviewed by an independent group of science advisers. The EPA staffers then finalize their review in a paper that includes options for changing the standards.
The process announced Thursday would eliminate the staff paper, replacing it with a policy assessment reflecting the views of high-level political appointees. The independent advisers wouldn't get to comment on the policy assessment until it is published in the Federal Register.
Scientific views would be reflected in a separate document that wouldn't offer recommendations for changes to the standards.
The new process reflects suggestions from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobby, and has been angrily criticized by environmental groups. Some recommendations of the independent science advisers also are adopted.
The announcement of the new process followed a controversial decision this fall to set new safety standards for soot and dust that ignored some recommendations from science advisers.
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