An Opportunity For Public Comments at EPA

The Trump administration's drive to roll back governmental protections continues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week that it is taking public comments on regulatory reform in accordance with Executive Order 13777, "Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda." The agency "is seeking input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification." However, this is an opportunity for the public to offer their support for the key role the EPA plays in protecting human health and our environment.

In January, President Trump signed a memo that ordered the Commerce Department to solicit public comments on "actions to streamline permitting and reduce regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturers." A recent analysis by The Washington Post of the comments submitted revealed that most came from industry, whose top targets for regulations to change or remove were clean air and water and labor protections--putting the EPA in their crosshairs as well. This illustrates why it is so important that the millions of people that benefit from these protections also provide their comments to the EPA.

A Declining Role for Science at EPA

The administration continues to signal it doesn't accept the science of climate change. It has gotten so bad that the EPA's own Scientific Integrity Office is reviewing whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated agency policies when he said last month that carbon dioxide is not a primary driver of climate change. It is probably no coincidence that Pruitt, in an interview earlier this month, walked back some those claims. (In other news, Pruitt last month also rejected the advice of EPA scientists in the EPA Pesticides Office when he decided not to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.)

On April 5, a coalition of 17 states and environmental groups supporting the Clean Power Plan filed a legal challenge in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the Trump administration's request to pause the legal proceedings pending its own review of the regulation. On April 12, the EPA filed another brief asking the court not to issue a ruling on the Clean Power Plan, stating that in the future the administration may rely on "revised scientific conclusions"--a worrying statement given the administration's record on climate science.

A public records request by the Sierra Club shows that more than 100 scientist positions in specialties like environmental science, life science, and physical science have been left unfilled at the EPA due to the Trump administration's hiring freeze."These posts are crucial to understanding what types of pollutants are present, where they are coming from, how they are affecting people and wildlife, and how to return human and natural ecosystems to a healthful state. Every decision by the agency--from permit approvals to regulations--must be supported by extensive research," said Sierra Club Global Climate Policy Director John Coequyt.

FY17 and FY18 Budgets on Congress' Agenda

The House and the Senate left for recess earlier this month without a deal in place on the current-year budget (FY17). The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires on April 28, just days after Congress returns from recess on April 24. In addition to trying to reach an agreement on the FY17 budget to avoid a government shutdown, congressional appropriators are expected to work quickly on next year's budget (FY18) as well.

Although the Trump administration proposed massive cuts to scientific programs in its FY18 budget, Congress has for the most part balked at these. On April 10, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting a 4% increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) budgets in FY18. In addition, noting that "America's research and development (R&D) enterprise has made our nation the world's preeminent, most effective, and sought-after partner for innovation", a collection of 286 scientific, medical/health, higher education, and business organizations sent a letter earlier this month to the leadership of the House and Senate, requesting that they act quickly on the FY17 budget and stand up for science against the administration's proposed cuts in both FY17 and FY18.

Forensic Science to Suffer at DOJ

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on April 10, that he will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science when its term ends on April 23. The NCFS was created by the Obama administration in 2013 after the National Academy of Sciences criticized the lack of funding and standards for crime labs and research, a problem they attributed in part to having law enforcement in charge of the system. The NCFS is a 30-member independent advisory board of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors, and defense attorneys that was intended to act as an impartial body outside of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for understanding and deciding on the validity of forensic evidence for cases. Sessions is expected to create an Office of Forensic Science within the Department of Justice, which would decrease objectivity. These moves against independent forensic science could lead to more wrongful convictions; according to the Innocence Project, nearly half of 349 DNA-based exonerations involved wrongful convictions due to misapplications of forensic science.

Following Sessions' announcement, the DOJ has issued a request for public comments on how it can improve the underlying science and validity of forensic science, improve the operational management systems of forensic science service providers, and improve the understanding of forensic science by legal practitioners. These are all issues the NCFS has worked on and created recommendations about.

Major Weather Legislation Passes Congress

On April 4, the House passed H.R. 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (it had previously been passed by the Senate). The bill, which, if signed by President Trump, would be the "first major weather legislation enacted since the early 1990s", aims to increase research capacity for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), specifically to improve forecasts for extreme weather events. The bill also includes language on working more with the private sector to generate data that the government can use for forecasting. While the bill sets priorities and authorizes funding for many activities, it does not directly give more funding to NOAA.

Action Items

  • Submit a public comment to the EPA about a regulation you value and want to see protected. Go to this page on regulations.gov, and then click on the Comment Now button. You can comment in support of regulations that improve air or water quality, reduce exposure to chemicals, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (for example by requiring better vehicle mileage), or provide for the many other ways EPA protects our health and environment.
  • Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) is asking for scientists' public comments on House Science Hearings. This was set up after the Climate Science hearing. Be a resource to help House Democrats stand up for science here.
  • Call your members of Congress (look up contact info here and here or call 202-224-3121) to ask them to support the science funding requested by Senators Gardner and Peters (see above).
  • To express your support for the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) to the DOJ, please post a comment online at the Federal Register here urging AG Sessions to renew the NCFS for another two years as a way to ensure these goals continue to be met. You can leave the comment anonymously or provide your name and contact information. Public comments will be accepted until June 9, 2017. For more information, see above.
  • You can also express support for NCFS by calling the DOJ's comment line at (202) 353-1555 and leaving a message voicing your opinion about how the elimination of the NCFS will be detrimental to keeping a fair and balanced role of forensic science in the criminal justice system.

Highlights from Partner Organizations

  • The March for Science will be held this Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day), in Washington, DC and in hundreds of cities across the US and the world. Find your local march here.
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has announced a range of events to coincide with the March for Science in Washington, DC. Check them out here. In addition, AAAS is hosting a webinar this Wednesday, April 19, entitled "Advocating for Science Beyond the March". Register here.
  • NextGen Climate, the organization founded by business leader and philanthropist Tom Steyer, has created a searchable database of actions related to climate change. Find town halls, demonstrations, and other actions near you here.

- Science & Technology Policy Working Group, RISE Stronger

Have comments or something to add? Contact the RISE Science & Technology Policy Working Group at questions@risestronger.org.