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Scorned Scientists Form Rogue Air Panel After EPA Dumped It (1)

Sept. 26, 2019, 3:03 PMUpdated: Sept. 26, 2019, 5:40 PM

Former members of a disbanded EPA science panel said Sept. 26 that they would form an independent group to make sure that the national air quality standards for fine particle pollution are given a “thorough review.”

These 20 scientists were part of a vetted particulate matter review panel that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded nearly a year ago, on grounds that they took too long to perform their tasks.

The group of scientists, under the banner of the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, said they will “provide independent scientific input on the nation’s protections from particulate-matter air pollution.”

The former panel was charged with providing expert advice on particle pollution science to the seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Wheeler replaced the chairman of CASAC, as well as several of its members, at the same time.

‘Didn’t Have the Qualifications’

“The panel that was fired had a roster of scientists that were well-qualified to review the standards,” Chris Zarba, former EPA director of the Science Advisory Board office, told Bloomberg Environment. “The new panel admitted they didn’t have the qualifications, and the old panel felt it was critical to have a thorough review of the particulate matter air standards.”

Zarba will serve as the designated officer to the new group to monitor the proceedings, a role that he filled at the EPA. The group will be led by Chris Frey, former chairman of EPA’s science advisory committee and a civil engineering professor with North Carolina State.

The Clean Air Act requires an accurate and thorough review of the latest scientific knowledge or basis of these standards, Frey said. “This CASAC is not able to discharge its responsibilities under the Act properly,” because it lacks the breadth of expertise that the panelists brought to the table, he said.

The Trump EPA’s actions to change the scientific review process by combining the risk and exposure assessment with policy recommendations and disbanding the panel of scientists have contributed to “undermining the credibility and integrity of the scientific process,” Frey said.

The Environmental Protection Agency for its part disagrees with this reading of its actions, and plans to consider the advice of the new panel along with other public comments it will receive during the review process.

“EPA is committed to scientific integrity and transparency,” EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said in an emailed statement. “As is standard protocol, EPA solicits advice from its federal advisory committees, such as CASAC, on highly influential science.

“EPA always welcomes comments from the public and it is not uncommon for special interest groups and coalitions to organize, meet and develop comments for submission to the record.”

Meetings and Meetings

Starting Oct. 10, nearly one year to the day the scientists were dismissed, the new panel members will participate in a two-day public meeting in Arlington, Va., to conduct their own review of the science of particulate matter pollution and health.

That meeting is hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been critical of Wheeler’s actions, especially his recent decision to reinstate a panel of consultants that would advise the scientists through written comments.

The panel plans to write its own recommendations and to present them to CASAC when it meets Oct. 24-25 in North Carolina.

The scientists’ announcement comes as the EPA hustles to complete its review of the 2012 fine particulate standards by the end of 2020.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review national air quality standards every five years, but the agency has rarely met those deadlines.

Agency staff are on an accelerated schedule to propose its reviews by March, which many former EPA employees and science advisers have criticized as too ambitious.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com