Use of Science in EPA Air Pollution Programs Restricted

Date: April 12th, 2018

Agency: EPA, Federal, White House

Explanation: Bias and Misrepresentation

Scientist: Other

On April 12, 2018, President Trump issued a memorandum directing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make changes to certain air pollution programs. The changes have implications for the use of science in developing and implementing air pollution protections.

The Presidential Memorandum directs the EPA Administrator to, among other things, review the role of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) in developing National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants. Under the Clean Air Act, CASAC is required to periodically review the NAAQS, and recommend appropriate changes thereto to protect public health. CASAC currently bases its recommendations on scientific information about the health impacts of air pollution. The Presidential Memorandum suggests that CASAC should also consider the “adverse public health and other effects that may result from implementation of revised air quality standards.” Critics allege that this will require CASAC to consider non-scientific information, for example, on the economic impacts of revising the NAAQS.

The Presidential Memorandum also seeks to restrict the scientific data that can be relied upon by EPA in determining whether an area has attained the NAAQS. Currently, EPA relies on data from air quality monitors, as well as models. The use of modeling is discouraged in the Presidential Memorandum, which directs the EPA to “rely on data from approved air quality monitors.”

UpdateOn May 20, 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a memorandum outlining changes to the NAAQS review process. The memorandum calls for, among other things, the adoption of more efficient processes for reviewing scientific evidence on whether the NAAQS adequately protect public health. It would also require CASAC to examine, as part of its review, “adverse” economic and energy effects that might result from revisions to the NAAQS.

On October 10, 2018, EPA issued a statement indicating that Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler had “tasked [CASAC] with leading the review of science for any necessary changes to the NAAQS for ozone or particulate matter” (PM). In past reviews, CASAC has been assisted by pollutant review panels, comprised of experts on each criteria pollutant. It is, however, unclear whether an ozone and/or PM panel will be established to assist CASAC with the current review. The panels were not mentioned in EPA’s October 2018 statement, leading to concerns that they will not be used, and that “the Trump administration appears to have cut scientists out of [the review] process.”

On October 11, 2018, EPA announced that the “PM Review Panel will no longer be involved with the agency’s PM NAAQS review.”