Holding the EPA to Account

Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton asked for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's attention in his opening statement at a Feb. 28 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, berated her and held her to account.   

Congressman Barton's opening statement ticked off the following list of problems he had with the EPA, including agency:

  1. Failure to comply with Obama Executive Order 13563 requiring regulations that promote economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and jobs with the least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends, taking "into account benefits and costs, both quantitative and qualitative" (quoting from the Executive order);
  2. Promulgation of power plant regulations that have driven energy costs higher without reasonable justification;
  3. Failure to Congressional criticism of regulatory actions, including requests for public health and economic research data and justifications of policy decisions;
  4. Disregard of blatant conflicts of interest among its science advisers who receive tens of millions of dollars in research grants from the agency wile also posturing as independent reviewers of agency science;
  5. Failure to require that its sponsored researchers follow established rules of public health research with respect to toxicology and epidemiology;
  6. Inappropriate reliance on the precautionary principle;
  7. Circumvention of Congressional oversight; and
  8. Grant-giving to advocacy groups that then enter into collusive lawsuits and aggressive regulatory requests that promote the agency's agenda and expand its regulatory and political power.

As Congressman Barton pointed out, "I believe that the American public and taxpayers should not be paying for an agency that manipulates data and funds researchers in the form of exterior grants, who in turn serve on the internal committees within the EPA to create policy and work in an oversight capacity. This is an incredible conflict of interest to the American public."

What are some solutions to the EPA's faults and shortcomings?

  1. Shrink EPA. Most environmental protection is done at the state-level. Most environmental regulatory work is done by the states. The Federal agency has too much time and money and that results in overreach and aggressive policy making.
  2. End inherent conflict of interest. Research and regulation need to be separated into independent agencies. At a minimum, EPA science reviewers should not be grantee researchers or affiliated with grantee institutions.
  3. Risk assessment (RA) and cost benefit analysis (CBA). All rules must be subject to the two. RA and CBA should be judicially reviewable. This could be done through a super mandate that modifies review criteria for all agency activities.
  4. Judicial review. Aggrieved parties should have easier opportunities to challenge the agency in court. The "arbitrary and capricious" standard in the Administrative Procedures Act needs to be replaced with a standard that allows proper challenges, such as the standard of review for workplace rules administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This could be done with a "super mandate" that overrides all existing statutory law.
  5. Impose stricter scientific standards. Obligate the Agency to research that is subject to objective, non conflicted peer review and appropriate evaluation of data and methods. Require that taxpayer funded research be reviewable for data and methods and that research comply with the scientific standards from authoritative resources such as the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, written by truly independent experts to provide federal judges with guidance on what constitutes reliable scientific evidence in federal courts. If the Reference Manual is good enough for courts, it ought to be good enough for the EPA.

Congressman Barton's dressing down of EPA and its administrator was a first step in the right direction. But now Congressman Barton and his colleagues need to follow through by implementing real solutions that will stop the EPA's regulatory excesses.