Philip Wegmann, RealClearPolitics
Michael Regan began his tenure as President Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator by dismissing dozens of outside scientific advisers appointed during the previous administration — part of an effort to “ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work.”
At the time, Regan (pictured) called it a “reset.” Opponents grumbled that it looked more like “a purge.” Now, one of those advisers, Stanley Young, has filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the agency of violating U.S. law; the suit also seeks an injunction to halt the work of his former committee.
This legal dispute is just the latest reaction from the right to environmental concerns. Conservatives see the case as their best chance to thwart the Biden administration’s multi-agency approach to combating climate change, seen as hostile to the fossil fuel industry.
Clean Air Act stipulates that EPA should seek advice from a committee of scientists known as Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Regan dismissed all seven members of that panel and 47 members of the related Science Advisory Board (SAB) — actions that, Young alleges, left them “unfairly balanced” because “they lack a single member affiliated with regulated industries.”
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Young’s fellow conservatives have rallied to his lawsuit, with Garrett Bess, vice president of Heritage Action for America, condemning the firings as part of an effort “to rubber-stamp the Left’s extreme job-killing agenda.” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, added that the move was meant to ensure the EPA gets “only the advice that it wants to hear.”
Conservatives enjoyed a deregulation boom, along with their industry allies during Trump’s years. But critics frequently complained about the bias of the two outside advisory boards at the EPA in favor industry. Biden is feared to have a more swaying regulatory hand. Young is a former statistician in the pharmaceutical sector and has now filed a lawsuit.
“This could be the last chance to derail the Biden EPA’s climate railroad before rules are issued,” Steven Milloy, who served as an informal environmental policy adviser to members of the Trump administration, told RealClearPolitics.
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Milloy, who authored the book “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA,” added that if Young and “other honest scientists” are not restored to their positions on the advisory boards, the Biden administration “will likely issue air quality regulations that are literally based on scientific fraud and that have been rubber-stamped by EPA’s illegally selected board of crony science advisers.” If conservatives succeed in court, he predicted, the EPA will have “to start over and pick a truly independent and balanced review panel.”
An agency spokesperson declined to comment on the case, other than to note that the litigation “is still pending” and that the “EPA has nothing to add.” Conservatives sound bullish on their chances in court, noting that U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, will hear the case.
Next week, President Biden will be heading to Glasgow for an international summit on climate change. Because of Congress’ lack of progress on an infrastructure bill (which includes most aspects his climate agenda), administration officials don’t want Biden to travel empty handed.
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden is willing to take all routes, through legislation or executive action, to meet his commitment “to addressing the climate crisis.” This has opponents of tighter EPA regulation worried.
Conservatives say they don’t believe new carbon rules from Biden would stand up to Supreme Court scrutiny. They point to the legal failure of the Clean Power Plan, former President Obama’s attempt to use the Clean Air Act to meet the terms of the Paris climate agreement, as proof. All the same, they worry that regulations, even ones that aren’t targeted at carbon emissions, could be used to further hamstring the fossil fuel industry.
In early 2012, over 150 former officials of the government signed on to a framework for a broad-based response to climate changes called The Climate 21 Project. It acknowledged the possibility that the Supreme Court might strike down new regulations, noting that “while the climate crisis demands an aggressive approach, the constraints and risks of exercising regulatory authority warrant a thoughtful assessment to define where to regulate and where to apply other leverage.”
The report pointed to the Clean Air Act as one fulcrum point: “In addition to the primary air quality and public health benefits these rules would deliver, they would also produce climate benefits; in some cases, pollution control compliance measures would result in [greenhouse gas] reductions.”
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The report, which conservatives say outlines “a backdoor” approach to reducing carbon emissions, was authored by Joseph Goffman, now a top official with EPA’s air and radiation office; Brenda Mallory, now chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Jennifer Macedonia, now deputy associate administrator for policy at the EPA.
Young argues in his lawsuit that the advisory board members who would be informing the actions of those EPA officials were purged in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a decades-old law that requires the agency field advice from “objective” sources. He also alleges that the new EPA administrator has staffed the CASAC and SAB “with academics who are financially beholden to EPA through multimillion-dollar research grants.”
Elizabeth Sheppard is the chairwoman of CASAC, and will be weighing in on any new Clean Air Act regulations. Sheppard was previously a University of Washington professor of environmental sciences. Young claims she is linked to more than $60,000,000 in EPA grants. The Trump administration had previously banned academics receiving EPA grants from sitting on advisory boards. Critics claim this was an illegal move and it was soon reversed under the Biden administration.
Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute called that countermeasure “outrageous.” The Biden administration, he added, was “scuttling conflict-of-interest rules so that it could stack what should be an independent panel with reviewers who will essentially be reviewing their own EPA-funded work.”
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