Washington (September 26, 2019)—On October 10th, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed the expert panel that was tasked with providing independent scientific input on the nation’s protections from particulate-matter air pollution, a well-known health hazard. Now, even as Administrator Andrew Wheeler works to subvert the Clean Air Act, exactly one year later the dismissed scientists are convening to do the job the Trump administration refuses to do.
On October 10 and 11, this independent panel of the nation’s top air quality experts will meet to review the science of particulate matter pollution and health. This new independent panel, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), will consist of 20 experts, many with long records of providing science advice under presidents of both parties. The panel will kick off a year to the day since their dismissal by Wheeler and will conclude with a letter stating whether the current particulate matter standards are adequate, based on the latest science, and if warranted, what new standards should be in order to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, as the Clean Air Act requires.
“At every turn, the Trump EPA has tried to take science out of this process,” said Dr. Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and an air pollution scientist. “They’ve tried to restrict the science that can be considered and sidelined the experts they should be listening to. Administrator Wheeler is rigging the process on one of the most important public health issues we face. Fortunately, they can’t shut out science entirely. The EPA has an obligation to base ambient air quality standards on the evidence—and the public deserves a process that puts health first. Particulate matter is responsible for more illnesses and early death in the U.S. than any other pollutant. Lives depend on us getting this right.”
For decades, under presidents of both parties, the EPA has followed a well-defined, transparent process to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) has long relied on independent panels of experts to help them understand how pollutants affect human health and welfare. As Goldman explains, President Trump and Administrator Wheeler have completely upended this process, replacing it with a tightly-controlled new structure that makes independent input nearly impossible.
The new independent panel will hold a full public comment period and live-stream their deliberations. The panel’s report will be available ahead of the October 24 CASAC meeting.
“Despite being disbanded, we will continue to serve,” said Dr. H. Christopher Frey, a North Carolina State University environmental engineering professor who is a past chair of the CASAC, was a member of the disbanded panel, and will chair the upcoming independent panel meeting. “Without us, the CASAC lacks the necessary breadth, depth, and diversity of scientific expertise that our panel has. We will provide the public and EPA with credible scientific advice regarding the particulate matter standards. Our advice is intended to inform the public and EPA decision making regarding whether to retain or revise the existing standards. We will continue to serve as long as we find that our service is needed.”