Scott Pruitt

EPA Bureaucracy Strikes Back: The Case of the Board of Scientific Counselors

How will the struggle between the permanent bureaucracy and the EPA's new leadership play out?

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In the 1980s British sitcom Yes, Minister, Department of Administrative Affairs Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby regularly frustrated the efforts of the Department's Minister Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP to enact reforms, reduce bureaucracy, or change policy. In fact, Sir Humphrey seeks, as a matter of principle, to uphold and maintain the status quo in the civil service. This notably includes maintaining the prestige, power and influence of the civil service. Consequently, Sir Humphrey seeks to stymie any efforts that Hacker makes toward preventing the expansion of the civil service or reducing the complexity of its bureaucracy. From the point of view of the bureaucrats, as Sir Humphrey observes, "It makes very little difference who the Minister is."

The efforts of the permanent bureaucracy at the Environmental Protection Agency to hand the the new political leadership a fait accompli regarding the membership of that agency's Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) brought to mind the antics of Yes, Minister. The civil servants at the EPA had apparently assured the members of the BOSC whose three-year terms were ending that they could stay on for another term just as the Obama administration was winding down in January. Since the terms for more than half of the BOSC's members ran out in late April, the agency bureaucrats essentially went to the new EPA leadership with the old list of Obama administration appointees at the last minute and said, "Sign this."

The new team appointed by Trump declined to do so. Scorned bureaucrats then leaked the decision to the media shaping the narrative as a Trumpian anti-science "firing" of brave truth-tellers. The Washington Post and the New York Times duly reported just that story. But is it so? "We're not going to rubber-stamp the last administration's appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool," EPA spokesperson J.P. Freire told the Post. "This approach is what was always intended for the board, and we're making a clean break with the last administration's approach."

Rifling through the Federal Advisory Committee Act database, I find that the terms of 12 members of the BOSC officially expired on April 27, 2017. Another ended in March. Composed of outside researchers, the 18-member BOSC is supposed to provide objective and independent counsel to the agency's Office of Research and Development (ORD). The committee aids the ORD on research and development with the aim of identifying, understanding, and solving current and future environmental problems; by reviewing ORD's technical support to EPA's program and regional offices; by providing leadership in assisting ORD in identifying emerging environmental issues; and by helping to advance the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management.

BOSC members are must be nationally recognized experts in science or engineering. The board should be balanced in disciplines, diversity, and geographic distribution area and include representatives from academia, government, industry, environmental consulting firms, and environmental associations.

Last May, the agency issued a BOSC Membership Balance Plan that among other things noted that approximately 8 months prior to expiration of committee members' terms the DFO [designated federal officer] starts devising an outreach plan for new committeee members. Among other things, the DFO is supposed to solicit candidate names through a Federal Register notice and from individuals who are actively engaged in interests relating to environmental scientific and technical fields, human health care professions, academia, industry, public and private research institutes and organizations, and other relevant interest areas. The DFO reviews the pool of nominees screening out lobbyists and checking for conflicts of interest while seeking a balance of points of view. As the Membership Balance Plan notes the list of nominees is reviewed by "different levels of EPA managers" before formal letters of invitation are sent out. The Plan notes that "members are usually appointed for a three-year term. Generally, members may be reappointed for a total of 6 years."

In this case, the EPA bureaucrats in charge of finding and vetting nominees for the BOSC were evidently satisfied with the members who had been appointed during the Obama administration. Spot checking the BOSC's history, it does appear that in recent years, committee members have generally served two 3-year terms.

EPA spokesperson J.P. Freire released this statement: "Advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency's work. EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees – including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel – and carry out a competitive nomination process." The EPA plans solicit nominees through the Federal Register and to select new board members quickly. (I reached out to the agency to clear up which and how many BOSC members are not being re-appointed. I have not heard back yet.)

So which members are not being re-appointed? The news reports say that the appointments of up to 9 members are not being renewed. According to the database these 13 members terms are over.

Viney Aneja—North Carolina State University professor of air quality

Shahid Chaudhry—California Energy Commission mechanical engineer

Susan Cozzens—Georgia Tech Sociologist of science

Courtney Flint—Utah State University Natural Resource Sociologist

Earthea Nance—Texas Southern University Civil & Environmental Engineering

Paula Olsiewski—Sloan Foundation Biochemist

Kenneth Reckhow—Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology at Duke University

Robert Richardson—Michiagan State University Ecological Economist

Sandra Smith—Principal Toxicologist AECOM Consultancy

Gina Solomon—California EPA (Former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council)

Ponisseril Somasundaran- Columbia University Professor of Mineral Engineering

John Thakaran—Howard University Biochemical engineering

Tammy Taylor—Chief Operating Officer of the National Security Directorate at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The terms of three other members will expire this summer.

Lisa Dilling—University of Colorado biologist

Diane Pataki—University of Utah ecologist

Joseph Rodricks—Principal Arlington of Environ International Corporation toxicologist

Predictably, activists are outraged. "This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda," said Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists to the Times. Clearly to Kimmel's mind, science could never support deregulation or declining to regulate.

The FACA requires that the membership of the committees be "fairly balanced in terms of points of view presented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee." Of course, members of federal advisory committees like the BOSC are subject conflicts of interest regulations. It will be interesting to see how this struggle between the agency's new leadership and the permanent bureaucracy plays out. I will keep readers posted.

NEXT: Former Obama Lawyers Are Suddenly Worried About Illegal Wars

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  1. Props for the Yes Minister reference. Always good to see other people have watched that show!

    1. Although I wonder about the Sir/RtHonMP split; wasn’t Humphrey knighted at the same time the RtHon MP became prime minister by accident?

      1. No, Humphrey was Sir Humphrey from the beginning (career civil servants often get honors as a matter of course). He became cabinet secretary just before Hacker accidentally became PM.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do.,.,.,.,.,. http://www.webcash10.com

  2. Shahid Chaudhry – California Energy Commission mechanical engineer

    Maybe a software-searchy-person can help me? I can’t seem to find Mr. Chaudhry’s name here. I find three entries under Chaudhry, but none appear to match the good Shahid in name or profession.

    Surely such an environmentally conscious and law-and-order minded State like that of California wouldn’t dream of employing let alone advancing a dangerously unlicensed engineer for such a critical role as a Top Man. Surely, it’s just a mistake.

    1. Certainly California wouldn’t do that. Just as they wouldn’t look the other way as the President of the State system stole millions upon millions by overcharging students and keeping a large slush fund for herself.

      1. Certainly California wouldn’t do that.

        Meet Hien T. Tran mail order PHD.

        1. How about the Wrong Dishonourable Leland Yee, former State Assemblyman.

        2. Ca takes science very seriously and the credentials of its advisors are all ways top notch, costing upto $1000!
          http://www.killcarb.org/tranpage.html

    2. m: For more info check this link.

      1. I.e., less of a “scientist” or “engineer” and more “bureaucrat responsible for water/energy-related public works projects.”

        Why wouldn’t you want him on the EPA’s BOSC? He probably knows tons about science. Just like all those sociologists, “environmental economists,” public policy people, and the guy from the “Community and Sustainability” Department at Michigan State.

        Science!

    3. He is legally OK calling himself an “engineer”, but it is bureaucratic hype. Anyone can make such a claim even without a degree in engineering. What he can legally can’t do is call himself a Professional Mechanical Engineer and sign/stamp documents requiring a PE license.

      Looked at some of his presentations and he sounds like just another bureaucrat.

  3. Aren’t a lot of the Union of Concerned Scientists not actually scientists?

    1. Scientists who no longer or can’t do science become concerned scientists. There was a guy in my Ph.D. program who realized he didn’t really like research and ended up pursuing a science policy fellowship in DC, he still got the Ph.D. though and some of his thesis work was published, so he still gets to call himself a “scientist” even though he hasn’t been in a lab for 10+ years…

    2. I’m still waiting to hear the opposing view from the Union of Scientists Who Just Don’t Give a Shit.

  4. OK, what is a Sociologist of Science? Or a Natural Resource Sociologist. And I was a Wildlife Biologist, and worked on a few out there things, but even I have never heard of this. Exactly what advice would they be giving the EPA?

    1. I was going to say…maybe it’s just my personal bias as an engineer, but to me that’s exactly two too many sociologists to give power over the whole environment.

    2. Exactly what advice would they be giving the EPA?

      “Spend money on things that interest me.”

    3. They are the ones keeping a watchful eye out for bonobo porn

  5. academia, government, industry, environmental consulting firms, and environmental associations.

    So not a lot of diversity, then.

  6. Forgive me for beating the proverbial dead horse, but what the hell.

    Professor of air quality YES, but obviously biased
    California Energy Commission mechanical engineer (Works for CA) NO
    Sociologist of science (Seriously??) NO
    Natural Resource Sociologist (Another fucking sociologist?) NO
    Civil & Environmental Engineering (legit) YES
    Sloan Foundation Biochemist (legit) YES
    Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology at Duke University (“environmental implications”) NO
    Ecological Economist (WTF?) NO
    Principal Toxicologist AECOM Consultancy YES
    California EPA (Former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council) (HOLY SHIT! A two-fer)FUCK NO
    Professor of Mineral Engineering YES
    Biochemical engineering YES
    Chief Operating Officer of the National Security Directorate at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory NO (why security?)
    Biologist YES
    Ecologist (meh, suspicious of ecologists in general, but ok) YES
    Principal Arlington of Environ International Corporation toxicologist NO (a real company?)

    1. Thanks for this – I was just starting to put together a similar list.

      Environ International Corporation toxicologist NO (a real company?)

      Environ is from the ‘other side’ – they advocate on behalf of chemical manufacturers to ease up on regulations of carcinogenic emissions and the like. Or at least “he” does. Hard to say how “real” the company is.

      On a similar note, AECOM is a large engineering firm whose bread-and-butter is public works contracts. I also wouldn’t count them as particularly objective, but their angle is going to be “what can we build for you?” rather than “how can we help regulate things?” I know some people who work for them (and have been offered a position there myself), and they don’t seem like bad people – just primarily a building contractor, not environmentalists or environmental scientists.

      Also worth noting that Acting Deputy Director Thomas Tracy’s highest degree is a BA in economics from 1988.

    2. Civil & Environmental Engineering (legit) YES

      FIFY

      PS:
      I had the pleasure of working with freshly minted (Ivy league educated) environmental engineers. Basic science required for any other engineering field was nonexistent.

    3. The “civil and environmental engineer” is named Earthea. That has to be some kind of hippie name.

      On environmental engineering, I guess that depends on the institution. Where I was, environmental was a specialization beyond the basic civil degree that consisted of additional dry and complicated shit like water and wastewater chemistry. Although at least one of the professors was a “whole earth catalog” style hippie.

      I myself prefer dirt and pavement, which is the least sciencey of all engineering I know of- pretty much just winging it. “Engineering” pavement pretty much consists of lining up numbers using nomographs. Soil testing is the most Rube Goldberg shit ever, and as far as I know there are no practical analytical solutions for soil properties, foundations, or pavement like there are for water flow or structures.

    4. This is a very important matter, because these people drive the agenda at agencies like the EPA. The Progressives have succeded by infiltrating their own people into these boards and then taking them over. It is amazing (but good) that Trump/Pruitt have recognized the situation and are doing something to roll it back. The Progs will howl, but this is is good start – more (a LOT more) needs to done like this.

  7. Not giving is taking. This sums up easily half of the arguments on the left.

    “Robert Richardson – Michiagan State University Ecological Economist”

    What the fuck is an Ecological Economist? I’m thinking they put dollar values on ‘nature’ or some such to calculate losses due to industrialization?

    I’m going to guess that one squirrel is worth at least 1000 dollars, right?

    Oh, and just to point it out, either you or the source managed to misspell ‘Michigan’ in Mr. Richardson’s listing. I’m guessing the source itself doesn’t know how to spell it.

    1. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment — economy is not about money as much as thinking like an economist — seen and unseen, supply+demand, and so on. A environmental economist might well apply such thinking to prey/predator networks.

      1. A environmental economist might well apply such thinking to prey/predator networks.

        That would be an interesting study.

        Alas, that’s not what Environmental Economics is:

        Central to environmental economics is the concept of market failure. Market failure means that markets fail to allocate resources efficiently. As stated by Hanley, Shogren, and White (2007) in their textbook Environmental Economics:[4] “A market failure occurs when the market does not allocate scarce resources to generate the greatest social welfare. A wedge exists between what a private person does given market prices and what society might want him or her to do to protect the environment.

        1. Well, hell, that’s a kick in the ass. The market is simply the net result of multiple inputs from individuals, “market failure” is when the market doesn’t deliver what you want due to unintended yet entirely predictable consequences. Like when you shit in a bowl and wish for chocolate ice cream and are disappointed when you wind up with a bowl of shit. Or like when 4 million people all head to work at the exact same time and every last one of them inches along the whole way bitching about the traffic. It’s not a market failure just because everybody pursuing their own interests in their own way results in what you think is a sub-optimal outcome that therefore justifies you imposing your opinions about what everybody else should be doing on the general public.

        2. I appreciate the laugh!

          “Market failure means that markets fail to allocate resources efficiently…A market failure occurs when the market does not allocate scarce resources to generate the greatest social welfare.

          So you see, the central premise is when the most efficient resource allocation system fails (which it does do) it’s best to use the least efficient resource allocation system to remove all choice from the former in the name of the people who aren’t involved in the transaction at all. Seems legit, right? After all, everyone knows that the real goal of business is to kill people with poison and fire.

          /sarc

          1. so when “the market fails”, EPA step in and DICTATE what will then happen, OR ELSE. Right?

            So we need “environmental economists” to determine “market failures” before they occur, so that they can invent new regulations, controls, etc, to “fix” the “problem” before it happens….. like banning carbon dioxide so the global surface temperatures don’t rise twenty degrees centigrate over the next fifteen years, thus surely causing the ocean levels to rise thirty feet due to all the melted ice, glaciers, etc, so none of us can drive cars anymore because they ALL emit CO2. Come to think of it, so do these hooh hah fraud scientists. Scare quotes included. SO make THEM stop breathing and everything will be fine and dandy.

        3. Take from the rich and give to the nature.

          I’m guessing this “economics” leans much heavier toward Marx than Friedman.

        4. Alas indeed. My dreams have been shattered, my idealism and optimism trampled in the mud.

      2. Damn, I was looking at just this, wondering how many economists were involved in the EPA decisions – as in, how much is this going to cost and how much is 4500 fewer cases of asthma per year (or whatever) worth? – and had hoped this Robert Richardson – Michiagan State University Ecological Economist fellow was at least one bean-counter totting up how much we’re paying for a cleaner environment. But maybe nobody at the EPA sees it as their job to focus on efficiency and practicality, maybe their job is to make the air .0003% cleaner even if they have to kill every last human being on the planet to accomplish that goal.

        1. I believe this is one of two advisory panels at EPA. This is the scientific advisory committee. Perhaps the other one works on cost/benefit analysis.

    2. Looking at his background – he looks like an rural/agricultural land use guy who focuses on Third World.

  8. Susan Cozzens – Georgia Tech Sociologist of [sic] science

    Courtney Flint – Utah State University Natural Resource Sociologist [sic]

    Kenneth Reckhow – Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology [WTF???] at Duke University

    Robert Richardson – Michiagan State University Ecological Economist [“Economist”????]

    Read: Mountebanks.

  9. This being a scientific advisory committee, I would be very wary of appointing scientists from private corporations. There is cronyism in science, but adding corporate career incentives to the mix doesn’t seem to me to represent an improvement.

    1. Unfortaunately, there is no other source of non-progressive expertise in real science. The progs have taken over academia, and even the STEM fields are under pressure to conform to the SJW program. Real scientists who are involved in actually making stuff – not just thinking about how to equitably divide it up among the deserving masses – should have a stake here. On advisory committees there is supposed to be balance like this. Either on the boards themselves, or in the experts that they hire or listen to when they consider different subjects. And there is supposed to be balance from both academia AND from business AND government AND the public on these boards. The progressives have distorted the balance. It has hapened almost everywhere in the government.

  10. This is simply another great example of how a non-story became a story simply because aspects of it could be jammed into a narrative. I mean, OMG, they didn’t automatically renew the term of someone on some committee? OUTRAGEOUS! ANTI-SCIENCE!

    FFS you fucking TDS sufferers…at least wait until you have names to attack.

    1. Hey! The squirrels are hiding. My post went right up. Hooray science!

  11. This being a scientific advisory committee, I would be very wary of appointing scientists from private corporations.

    Wouldn’t want honesty and experience intruding on the party.

  12. Fox guarding the chicken coop. Trump administration is pretty much naked aggression in business areas.

    https://goo.gl/igUcNE

    Howard University chemical engineer and current BOSC committee member John Tharakan, whose second and final term ends this fiscal year regardless of the Trump administration’s shakeup, told us that he is amazed by the effort to push more industry into the committee at the expense of objective scientists:

    My reaction to Pruitt’s spokesmen suggesting replacing unbiased and objective scientists dismissed from the BOSC with industry leaders is one of amazement and incredulity. Asking industry leaders to critique and evaluate the science that the EPA’s Office of Research and Development does to underpin the evidence based development of policies to protect the environment from the damage those industries cause is sort of analogous to asking the fox to watch the chicken coop!

  13. The purpose of the EPA is to serve the public good. If we put industry scientists on the board, are they going to serve the public good or the corporate good?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

    Regulatory capture
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Regulatory capture is a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.[1] When regulatory capture occurs, the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies”.

    1. Regulatory capture happens all the time, but at the EPA, the capture is from the eco-left complex. Industry has been completely shutdown.

      1. rxc|5.10.17 @ 8:48AM|#

        Regulatory capture happens all the time, but at the EPA, the capture is from the eco-left complex. Industry has been completely shutdown.

        EPA is to serve the public good and is not there to serve the corporate needs. This is a safety organization. If you put the polluters on the board, then you are having a conflict of interest..Someone making a toxic chemical should not be influencing the outcome of the studies or blocking studies to be done.

        1. The public good is not just what the eco-left wants. The public good includes consideration of the negative effects of regulations on the public. The eco-left insists that there are no negatives to the positions they consider necessary, which is just plain silly.

          Yes, the EPA is supposed to serve the public good – they are not very good at doing it.

  14. It appears pretty clear to me that we have industry moving in to block regulations that would serve the public good, but not in their interest.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

    Relationship with federalism[edit]
    There is substantial academic literature suggesting that smaller government units are easier for small, concentrated industries to capture than large ones. For example, a group of states or provinces with a large timber industry might have their legislature and/or their delegation to the national legislature captured by lumber companies. These states or provinces then becomes the voice of the industry, even to the point of blocking national policies that would be preferred by the majority across the whole federation. Moore and Giovinazzo (2012) call this “distortion gap”.[7]
    The opposite scenario is possible with very large industries, however. Very large and powerful industries (e.g. energy, banking) can capture national governments, and then use that power to block policies at the state or provincial level that the voters may want.

  15. It appears pretty clear to me that we have industry moving in to block regulations that would serve the public good, but not in their interest.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

    Relationship with federalism[edit]
    There is substantial academic literature suggesting that smaller government units are easier for small, concentrated industries to capture than large ones. For example, a group of states or provinces with a large timber industry might have their legislature and/or their delegation to the national legislature captured by lumber companies. These states or provinces then becomes the voice of the industry, even to the point of blocking national policies that would be preferred by the majority across the whole federation. Moore and Giovinazzo (2012) call this “distortion gap”.[7]
    The opposite scenario is possible with very large industries, however. Very large and powerful industries (e.g. energy, banking) can capture national governments, and then use that power to block policies at the state or provincial level that the voters may want.

  16. things to watch for in the new science board.

    https://goo.gl/uunAz5

    1. Coal tar: Trade association wants to end health studies.

    The Pavement Coatings and Technology Council?a trade association for the paving industry?doesn’t want research into the health dangers of the black top on which your children play foursquare.

    It also doesn’t want the government to study the impact of coal tar on “freshwater sediment contamination, indoor air quality, ambient air quality and effects on aquatic species.”

    2. Leaky oil and gas drill sites: Trade groups don’t want to fix them.

    Trade associations representing the oil and gas industry, including The Independent Petroleum Association of America, have filed comments attacking Clean Air Act standards requiring energy producers to take cost-effective steps to reduce methane and other air pollution.

    3. Roofing fumes: Companies want no restrictions.

    The National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade group representing roofing companies, doesn’t want smog-forming chemicals restricted, saying such regulations “have been burdensome to our members.”

    1. Should possible dangerous things be studied or dangerous things be allowed back?

      https://goo.gl/uunAz5

      4. Cancer-causing lubricants: Manufacturers say they should still be used.

      No, not that kind of lubricant. The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association complained that the newly established chemical safety law may require its members to find replacement products for materials known to cause cancer in humans.

      5. Toxic pesticide: Chemical manufacturer wants ban removed.

      Don’t try to pronounce chlorpyrifos, just know this pesticide hurts kids’ health. That’s what the EPA had concluded last year, and proposed banning it after years of research showing that it causes developmental problems in children and that there are alternatives.

  17. I recommend Dr Ryan Kellogg, professor at the University of Chicago, for this board. I was his mentor for a couple of years early in his career, and I consider him one of the smartest, nicest, most honest individuals I ever met:

    http://home.uchicago.edu/~kelloggr/KelloggCV.pdf

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