CRS Joins Congressional Calls for Transparency at EPA: Submits FOIA Request for Records on CASAC’s Member Selection Process04/13/2016
CRS stresses need for balanced panel that includes western representation
Washington D.C. – Joining congressional calls for transparency at EPA, the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for public records and communications regarding the process for selecting new members to the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) and its Ozone Review Panel. The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually reviews CASAC membership, appointing new members on a rotating basis. In turn, CASAC advises EPA on their National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and other pollutants.
On April 4, 2016, the EPA initiated the 2016 CASAC nominating process, quietly posting a notice in the Federal Register soliciting nominations for new members. However, little is known about how EPA makes its ultimate decisions for membership, and the time allotted for public comment is only 30 days. Even so, 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 example, in 2015, public comments on the “short-list” of candidates were never made publically available and the EPA Administrator’s final decision was not publically noticed.
“CASAC has immense influence and input on EPA’s decisions regarding air quality standards, like Ozone NAAQS. As such, EPA has an obligation to ensure that the process of selecting new members is open and transparent and that the panel is balanced and unbiased. Unfortunately, the EPA historically fails in this regard, causing many to question the integrity of the panel,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “We’re filing this FOIA request to shine a light on the process, as EPA begins to consider a new candidate for the Committee. Moreover, I am urging EPA to consider naming a Western air regulator to the panel, since EPA has so far proved incapable of grappling with the complications associated with background ozone, which disproportionately impacts Western states.”
It is important to pull back the curtain and allow the public to understand EPA’s selection process, especially in light of the CASAC status as a Federal Advisory Committee, which is governed by Federal Advisory Committee Acts (FACA) requirements of balance and transparency. According to its charter, CASAC’s membership must include a physician, a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and a representative from a state pollution control agencies. These individuals should be free of conflict-of-interest and not hold preconceived views on the science. Yet the current panel does not include a member of NAS and the state representative is from the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), which actively lobbies for stricter ozone standards. There is sparse representation from Western states on the Committee, even though they face higher implementations burdens due to the role of background ozone.
In February 2016, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to the EPA charging that the Administration is “cherry-picking the same allies” to serve on the Committee and its subcommittees “at the expense of having an open and robust process for selecting external advisors.” The letter notes that six of the seven current members have previously served on CASAC, or CASAC subcommittees. Inhofe also called on the EPA to address potential conflicts-of-interest of CASAC members, revealing that CASAC members have received millions of dollars in EPA grant funding. The House Science Committee, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has found that the vast majority of appointees to CASAC’s Ozone Review Panel were essentially reviewing their own work. In a letter sent this week to the EPA, leaders of the House Oversight and Government Committee asked the agency to produce financial disclosure forms of CASAC members in order to “understand the reliability of EPA’s conflicts assessment.”
While the public knows very little about CASAC and its membership, it is the main driver for pushing the ozone NAAQS steadily downward; consistently advocating for EPA to lower the standard to 60 parts per billion (ppb) – a level that would be the most expensive regulation in history and force the majority of the country into non-attainment. Many areas in the U.S. have background ozone levels higher than 60 ppb, and as such CASAC’s preferred standard would not be achievable for much of the country. Such an outcome would be devastating for America’s small business owners, their workforce and communities, all would be unfairly penalized by the decision. While the EPA thus far has declined to follow the Committee’s extreme advice, the members selected to serve on CASAC will start the process again and define the terms of the debate for the next review of the ozone standard.
CRS’ FOIA seeks the following records from EPA:
- All documents referring or relating to the 2015 CASAC selection process, which includes, but is not limited to the following categories of documents:
- All comments submitted to EPA pursuant to its April 2, 2015 request for nominations to CASAC.
- All communications referring or relating to the CASAC selection process between EPA’s SAB and the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Air and Radiation EPA, and the Office of General Counsel.
- All communications between each candidate for CASAC membership and the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Air and Radiation EPA, and the EPA’s SAB staff.
- All communications referring or relating to Administrator McCarthy’s final CASAC selection between and among any of the following offices: EPA’s Office of the Administrator, Office of the Air and Radiation, and/ or the Office of General Counsel.
- All press releases or public announcements and notifications related to the CASAC selection process.
- All documents referring or relating to the upcoming Ozone Review Panel selection, which includes, but is not limited to the following categories of documents:
- Correspondence between any candidate for the ORP and the SAB.
- Discussion between an EPA employee and an outside party relating to ORP panel membership.
- All communications referring or relating to the ORP between EPA’s SAB and the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Air and Radiation EPA, and the Office of General Counsel.
- All communications between each candidate for the ORP and the Office of the Administrator, the Office of Air and Radiation EPA, and the EPA’s SAB staff.
The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a 501c(4) advocacy, research, education and networking organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship. For twenty-three years, SBE Council has worked to educate elected officials, policymakers, business leaders and the public about policies that enable business start-up and growth.
# # #