By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A panel of scientific advisers, including several appointed by President Donald Trump, says some rollbacks of clean-air and vehicle rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency are based on weak scientific analysis and should be revised, according to draft reports published on Tuesday.
The EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), which is tasked with providing independent input for agency policy, published four draft reports on the last day of the year analyzing the scientific underpinnings to the agency’s proposed changes to clean-water, mercury, vehicle fuel-efficiency and scientific transparency regulations.
In the case of the EPA’s proposed changes to mercury and air toxics regulations for power plants, the advisers told the EPA to “instigate a new risk assessment” of the scientific basis of its 2018 proposal that includes “all relevant health outcomes for neonates, children and adults” and widens its study of consumption of fish affected by mercury.
The mercury rule is due to be finalized in January.
In a separate report, the advisers proposed several recommendations aimed at strengthening the agency’s vehicle emission regulation, which would reduce the Obama administration’s vehicle emissions standards for cars and trucks for models up to 2026. The EPA said the changes would reduce vehicle costs and boost safety.
“Together with other smaller problems and inconsistencies, the issues are of sufficient magnitude that the estimated net benefits of the proposed revision may be substantially overstated,” the SAB report said.
In another report analyzing the agency’s changes to the Waters of the United States rule, which defines which waterways can be federally regulated, the board said the agency’s new definition was “not fully consistent with established EPA recognized science” … “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
In response to the advisory board reports, an EPA representative defended the rulemakings analyzed by the advisers and said their findings were not final.
“EPA always appreciates and respects the work and advice of the SAB,” Corry Schiermeyer said. “The commentary and reports may potentially be revised by the SAB members as they strive for a consensus on these documents.”
She said in the case of the waters rule, the EPA was constrained by legal precedent.
The Science Advisory Board was created by Congress to serve as a check on EPA policies and research. The Trump administration has made changes to the board in a bid to “diversify” its composition.
It will hold four public meetings in January to discuss its reports.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Cooney)