Policy: Environment & Energy

Proposed giant EPA land-grab is rigged, conflicted and corrupted

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Ron Arnold,Columnists,Sierra Club,EPA,Analysis,Environmental Defense Fund,Energy and Environment

What happens when Washington's top environmental policymaker packs a government advisory board with federal grant recipients so she can regulate virtually every acre in the United States of America?

For one thing, two powerful members of Congress angrily take notice and demand in a news release to know why “EPA Skirts the Law to Expand Regulatory Authority.”

That's also the point of a letter sent Friday by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, chairman of its environment subcommittee, to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Smith and Stewart are outraged by a proposed EPA rule – the “Water Body Connectivity Report” – that would remove the limiting word “navigable” from “navigable waters of the United States” and replace it with “connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters” as the test for Clean Water Act regulatory authority.

“Connectivity” is the latest meaningless science buzzword for a meticulous study of the presence and mechanisms of water connections that can’t quantify their significance for downstream ecological integrity.

That’s voodoo science, pure and simple.

If approved, the new rule would give EPA unprecedented power over private property across the nation, gobbling up everything near seasonal streams, isolated wetlands, prairie potholes, and almost anything that occasionally gets wet.

Smith and Stewart accuse EPA of "pushing through a rule with vast economic and regulatory implications before the agency’s Science Advisory Board has had an opportunity to review the underlying science.”

EPA says its rule-making will be based on the final version of the SAB's scientific assessment.

Catch 22: The SAB is paid to verify whether the EPA report is technically accurate but the panel has not yet been provided with the proposed rule, even though the Office of Management and Budget has it.

McCarthy is withholding a potential shield for the lives and property of millions. She’s forcing the SAB to fly blind, which puts the board itself in the national spotlight.

The law requires that the SAB must be free of conflicts ofinterest, unbiased, and transparent. Don’t expect any of that because the reality is the SAB is rigged, biased, and riddled with conflicts of interest – and the agency’s vetting of board candidates was corrupted by McCarthy.

The SAB does not do science. Odd as it sounds, the board just reviews a review. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development has already conducted a scientific literature search, picking its preferred studies for review by the SAB.

Although the EPA’s “Handbook for Members and Consultants” says, “The SAB staff office vets candidates for conflicts of interest or appearance of a lack of impartiality,” McCarthy clearly hand-picked the 27-member panel from a list of more than 125 candidates.

As a result, nearly 90 percent of the “independent” panel comes from the federal government, academia, or Big Green, including the Environmental Defense Fund and Nature Conservancy.

McCarthy allowed no industry-friendly scientists on the panel, despite the presence of nominees from Weyerhaeuser, Atkins North America, Air Liquide, ARCADIS U.S, and Houston Engineering.

McCarthy took no chances with letting hard-headed state or local water officials in, despite nominees from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Missouri Dept. of Conservation, North Carolina Division of Water Quality, Ventura County Watershed Protection District, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, New York City Dept of Environmental Protection, and the State of Wyoming.

But here's the worst part of it: Half of McCarthy’s choices received EPA grants in the last 10 years! These include:

* Allan, J. David: University of Michigan 2004 (grant year)

* Benda, Lee: Earth Systems Institute 2012

* Bernhardt, Emily S.: Duke University 2010

* Brooks, Robert P.: Pennsylvania State University 2008

* Fennessy, Siobhan: Kenyon College 2012

* Hawkins, Charles: Utah State University 2012

* Johnson, Lucinda: University of Minnesota Duluth 2003-2007

* Kalin, Latif: Auburn University 2012-2013

* Meyer, Judith L.: University of Georgia 2013

* Patten, Duncan: Montana State University 2008

* Rains, Mark Cable: University of South Florida 2011

* Sullivan, Mazeika: Ohio State University 2002-2005

* Wohl, Ellen: Colorado State University 2001-2004

McCarthy has assembled a board that is rigged, biased, conflicted, and corrupted.

But taxpayers don't have to put up with this kind of bureaucratic stacking of the regulatory deck.

The law empowers every taxpayer to attend every meeting of any federal SAB (EPA isn't the only federal agency that uses these groups) and to challenge anything they say or do.

Taxpayers can identify studies that should be added or deleted to official literature reviews by SABs.

Taxpayers can demand that a credible scientific review be finished by the SAB before EPA proposes a rule to the public.

Taxpayers can demand that the Office of Management and Budget to hold the rule, pending completion of the SAB review.

Most important, taxpayers can make it clear to McCarthy and those who support her that nowhere was she given authority to act as if everything that is "connected" can be regulated by EPA.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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