Carper and Voinovich Bill Puts Science First at US EPA

WASHINGTON, DC – Guided by recommendations from the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, today U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and George V. Voinovich (R-OH) introduced legislation to help strengthen the role of scientific analysis and research in federal environmental policy by creating a new top-level official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will oversee research and help ensure that regulatory decisions are based on the best available science. “We need a regulatory system that meets today’s environmental problems with modern tools of governance and the best in science and economics,” Carper said. “A high-ranking Chief Scientist at the EPA will send a very strong signal that the agency is serious about strengthening scientific foundation for its regulatory decisions.” “Defending public health and the environment is a critical mission that deserves our utmost commitment. We have incredible minds and research capabilities at EPA and we can only strengthen our nation’s environmental protections by making sure these resources are better integrated into the agency’s regulatory and policy actions,” Voinovich said. Last year’s National Research Council report, Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Research-Management and Peer-Review Practices (2000), concluded that EPA’s current structure should be improved to allow science to play a more significant role in decisions made by the agency Administrator. The report was conducted in response to concerns that EPA hasn’t used its science resources as effectively as possible to safeguard public health and that science has been adjusted to fit policy decisions. Among it’s own research, the NRC report cites an internal EPA review from 1992, Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions (EPA 1992), that said, “Currently, EPA science is of uneven quality, and the Agency’s policies and regulations are frequently perceived as lacking a strong scientific foundation.” “Additionally, the NRC report says :The [EPA’s] panel commented that EPA had not always ensured that contrasting, reputable scientific views were well-explored and well-documented from the beginning to the end of the regulatory process. It pointed out that the agency was often perceived to have a conflict of interest because it needed science to support its regulatory activities, and it described a widely held perception by people both outside and inside the agency, that EPA science was ‘adjusted’ by EPA scientists or decisionmakers, consciously or unconsciously, to fit policy.” (NRC, p. 126) “Science is the pursuit of truth and should be beyond the reach of those who would seek to influence the regulatory process for whatever reason. If the public has confidence that the EPA’s work is consistent with the standards at the nation’s top research facilities, then our efforts to protect the public health and the environment have more credibility and authority, and are ultimately more effective,” said Voinovich. To help elevate the role of science at EPA and better root science in the decision-making process, the bill creates an additional deputy administrator-level position at the agency–the agency’s second-ranking job. The new Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology would coordinate science research and its application in the regulatory process, and ensure that sound science is the basis for regulatory decisions. The new position would oversee the office of Research and Development, the Science Advisory Board, the Science Policy Council and the scientific and technical activities in the regulatory program at the agency. Additionally, the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development (currently the top science job at EPA) would become a six-year appointment to better shield scientific issues at the agency from political and other considerations.