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H.R. 1431, EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017

Floor Situation

On Thursday, March 30, 2017, the House will consider H.R. 1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017, under a closed rule.  The legislation was introduced on March 8, 2017 by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and was referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which ordered the measure reported on March 9, 2017 by a vote of 19-14. In the 114th Congress, the House passed similar legislation, H.R. 1029, by a vote of 236-181.


Summary

H.R. 1431 amends federal law relating to the Scientific Advisory Board to establish qualifications for members, reinforce independence of the Board, and facilitate public participation in the Board’s advisory activities.

The bill 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. 1431 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.

This legislation reinforces the independence of the Board.H.R. 1431 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, encourage public comments during Board proceedings, and require public comments to be published in the Federal Register.  Reports by the Board must include written responses to significant and substantive public comments and the public must be given an additional fifteen days following Board meetings to give additional comments.

Finally, H.R. 1431 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.”[1]  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.”[2] 

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.[3]  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.[4]

According to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, criticisms of the Board include the following[5]:

  • Public participation is limited during most [Board] meetings, and virtually no ability exists for interested parties to comment on the scope of [Board] reviews.
  • According to the Congressional Research Service,[6] 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 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.”
  • Some panel members have stated 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.

Cost

A Congressional Budget Office estimate is not currently available.  In the 114th Congress, CBO previously estimated that similar legislation, H.R. 1029, would cost less than $500,000 annually.


Staff Contact

For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 2-1374.

 

[1] See House Report 114-33 at 4.
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Members Introduce Legislation to Reform EPA’s Scientific Advisory Process, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (Apr. 9, 2013).
[6] 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).

115th Congress