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Congressional Oversight Committee Chairs and Air Regulators Call for Balance on CASAC


By Karen Kerrigan

Congressional leaders and air quality regulators are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring regional diversity to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) in a trio of letters to the agency. The letters, from the chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) and another from an influential state air regulators group, the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies (AAPCA) raise issues with the current makeup of CASAC in their calls for increasing balance on the committee.

The letters come as EPA seeks input to make a new appointment to the committee that is tasked with providing advice, information, and recommendations on the scientific and technical aspects of air quality for ozone and other pollutants.

The nomination is particularly significant with EPA preparing to implement its new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone, adopted last October. The rule has drawn widespread bipartisan opposition from federal, state, and local elected officials, editorial boards, business groups, and others who warn that the costs of the rule far outweigh any apparent benefits of dropping permissible ozone concentrations in ambient air from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.

Congressional Leaders Want Balance on CASAC

In a letter to EPA, Sen. James Inhofe, (R-OK), chairman of Senate EPW, is calling for the agency to select a candidate from the current list of nominees that would bring “much needed balance and integrity to CASAC.” Raising his “concerns with two of the nominees under consideration,” Inhofe writes that “there is no reason for EPA to overlook well-qualified candidates” from areas “that would clearly balance the panel.” From the letter:

This seeming geographic bias on the chartered CASAC cannot be ignored. It is also important to note that with respect to this specific state-based position on CASAC, there has been no meaningful geographic diversity at all.

This is not the first time the chairman has raised issues with CASAC. In February 2016, he admonished EPA for “cherry picking the same allies” to serve on its committees “at the expense of having an open and robust process for selecting external advisors.”

Meanwhile, similar concerns are being raised in a letter to EPA from Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and others, who are calling for EPA to nominate a candidate from a region not currently represented on CASAC. Also from the letter:

When considering nominees, it is vitally important that different EPA Regions are represented to ensure a fair balance of experts and experience. EPA specifically acknowledges in the notice that geographic diversity is an important selection criteria. Currently, no CASAC members come from Region 8 (MT, WY, ND, SD, UT, CO), Region 6 (NM, TX, OK, AR, LA), Region 7 (NE, KS, IA, MO), or Region 4 (KY, TN, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC). Additionally, not a single CASAC member has come from Regions 6, 7, or 8 since 2010. Accordingly, in order for balance, fairness and geographic diversity on CASAC, we request that EPA fill the open position with someone from an area not represented on the Committee.

The pair of Congressional letters is the latest development in what is becoming a growing list of CASAC critics. Congressional leaders, the EPA Inspector General and the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), have all raised concerns about conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency in previous nomination and selection processes for the committee. For example, in 2015, public comments on the “short-list” of candidates were never made public

But members of Congress are not the only ones calling for more balance on CASAC. The Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies (AAPCA) has also recently called on EPA to expand diversity on the committee. In a letter to EPA, the group writes:

“AAPCA also suggests that EPA should encourage nominations of, and seriously consider, qualified state, local, and tribal environmental agency experts for future openings on the chartered CASAC (including for those openings not statutorily required to be filled by a representative of state air pollution control agencies) as well as individual CASAC NAAQS review panels.”

The regulatory burden of EPA’s new ozone standard has come under intense scrutiny from business groupseditorial boards, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle who are calling on the agency to put the brakes on the new ozone rule. This blanket approach to ozone is exactly why the members of CASAC should represent the greatest geographic diversity available. Communities struggling with the new ozone standard deserve a voice that can speak to the specific and unique issues communities across the country will face in implementing this new standard.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council). The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Council.