H.R. 1422, EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013

H.R. 1422

EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013

Date
November 18, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, November 18, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013, under a rule.  H.R. 1422 was introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart on April 9, 2013 and was referred to House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  The bill was marked up on April 11, 2013 and was ordered reported, as amended, by a vote of 21-16.[1]

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[1] House Committee Report 113-165.

Bill Summary

H.R. 1422 amends federal law relating to the Scientific Advisory Board to 1) establish qualifications for members; 2) reinforces independence of the Board; 3) facilitate public participation in the Board’s advisory activities; and 4) limit the advice given by the Board to scientific determinations, rather than policy direction.

H.R. 1422 requires the Board to be comprised of individuals whose education, training, and experience qualify them to evaluate scientific and technical information.  The bill requires that the scientific and technical points of view be fairly balanced among Board members, and that at least ten percent of the members be drawn from state, local, or tribal governments.  H.R. 1422 requires the Board to solicit nominations from the public and from relevant federal agencies, and requires that the list of nominations and the entities that nominated them be made public.  Upon their provisional nomination, nominees must disclose their financial relationships and interests—including EPA grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, or other financial assistance that is relevant to the Board’s activities.  They must also disclose relevant professional activities and public statements.

H.R. 1422 reinforces the independence of the Board and prohibits subcommittees from making decisions on behalf of the Board or bypassing the Board.

H.R. 1422 facilitates public participation in the Board’s advisory activities by making all reports and relevant scientific information public, and providing information to both the public and the Board simultaneously when it is received.  The bill requires the Board to hold public information-gathering sessions before conducting major advisory activities, solicit public comments on questions to be asked to the Board, and encourage public comments during Board proceedings.  Reports by the Board must include written responses to significant public comments and the public must be given an additional fifteen days following Board meetings to give additional comments.

H.R. 1422 requires the Board to strive to avoid making policy determinations or recommendations, and requires that any policy advice be distinguished from scientific determinations.

Background

Congress established the EPA Science Advisory Board in 1978 to “provide[] scientific advice as may be requested by the EPA Administrator and interested Congressional Committees.”[2]  “According to the EPA, [the Board’s mission includes: 1) reviewing the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information being used or proposed as the basis for Agency regulations; 2) reviewing research programs and the technical basis of applied programs; 3) reviewing generic approaches to regulatory science, including guidelines governing the use of scientific and technical information in regulatory decisions, and critiquing such analytic methods as mathematical modeling; 4) advising the Agency on broad scientific matters in science, technology, social and economic issues; and 5) advising the Agency on emergency and other short-notice programs.”[3]

The Board “conducts much of its work through subcommittees or subpanels focused on specific issues,” which are not authorized to make decisions on the entire Board’s behalf or report directly to the EPA.[4]  Although the Board allows for some public participation in its activities, a 2011 session on public involvement resulted in numerous suggestions for enhanced public participation.[5]

According to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, criticisms of the Board include the following[6]:

  • According to the Congressional Research Service,[7] almost 60 percent of the members of EPA’s standing scientific advisory panels directly received National Center for Environmental Research grants from the Agency since 2000.  These advisors served as investigators for grants representing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. And the research they are being asked to independently review is often directly related to the grants they received.
  • Private sector industry expertise on panels is typically minimal, and in some cases is entirely excluded, despite existing statutory requirements that membership “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”
  • Many panel members state strong policy preferences in areas they are being asked to provide impartial scientific reviews, and in certain cases advisors review EPA products based on their own work.

Public participation is limited during most [Board] meetings, and virtually no ability exists for interested parties to comment on the scope of [Board] reviews.

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[2] Id. at 4.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Members Introduce Legislation to Reform EPA’s Scientific Advisory Process, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (Apr. 9, 2013).
[7] EPA Grants to Members of Selected EPA Advisory Committees, Memorandum to House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Congressional Research Service (Mar. 12, 2013).

Cost

According to CBO cost estimates, implementing H.R. 1422 would cost less than $500,000 per year, or approximately $2 million from 2014-2018.  The bill would not affect direct spending or revenues.

Amendments

1)         Rep. Stewart (R-UT) Amendment #2 – Amendment makes technical changes to conform with recent amendments to the underlying statute. The amendment also reiterates the independence of the Science Advisory Board and clarifies pre-existing language.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.

Additional Views

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 1422 – EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013
(Rep. Stewart, R-UT, and 21 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1422, which would affect the ability of EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to form panels and perform its essential functions. The SAB, along with other functions, reviews the quality and adequacy of certain scientific and technical information used by EPA or proposed as the basis for EPA regulations.  Therefore, it is imperative that the SAB be composed of the most knowledgeable scientific and technical experts available.  The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which governs Federal advisory committees such as the SAB, provides for balanced panels and subcommittees that include experts with diverse backgrounds who represent wide-ranging perspectives.

H.R. 1422 would negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.  For example, the bill would impose a hiring quota for SAB members based on employment by a State, local, or tribal government as opposed to scientific expertise.  Further, it would prohibit a SAB member from participating in “advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review and evaluation of their own work.”  Determining the practical meaning of “indirect” involvement will be difficult and consequently problematic to implement.  The provisions on appointment of experts to the SAB and various other requirements could preclude the nomination of scientists with significant expertise in their fields.

H.R. 1422 also would add burdensome requirements on the SAB with respect to solicitation of and response to public comments, above and beyond those imposed by FACA.  These new requirements would saddle the SAB with workload that would impair its ability to carry out its mandate.  Further, H.R. 1422 would add an unnecessary, burdensome, and costly layer of requirements for hazard and risk assessments without defining the scope of these requirements and absent recognition that many high profile assessments already are reviewed by the SAB.

If the President were presented with H.R. 1422, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.