Stewart wants to take science out of the science board

Thursday , January 15, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Guest Commentary

Several weeks ago, Congressman Chris Stewart sponsored a bill to change the rules for appointing Science Advisory Board members. The advisory board is tasked with reviewing scientific information and providing advice to the EPA, which in turn establishes regulations that protect public health and the environment.

Stewart’s bill (HR 1422) would add more industrial representatives to the board, while forbidding experts in environmental fields from using their own, peer-reviewed research. The bill would effectively take the science out of the Science Advisory Board while stacking its numbers with industry. Stewart claims he’s proposing this change to improve the transparency and enhance public participation, but the net result of his efforts would be to limit the input of independent scientists while promoting the viewpoints of paid, industrial employees.

Congressman Stewart's bill would silence scientists while handing a loudspeaker to industrial representatives hostile to the EPA. That academic scientists, beholden only to their independent research institutions and subject to the checks and balances of peer-reviewed research, would have their voices muted, while experts paid by corporations who openly lobby to block EPA regulations would have their voices amplified, is a cynical attack on a government body working to protect public health and safety.

An inconvenient truth for Stewart, however, is that Utah benefits enormously from the EPA’s regulations.

The agency has established regulations that control air toxins and auto emissions, banned DDT, protected the ozone layer, restored polluted rivers and lakes, and cleaned up countless toxic waste sites.

Those of us living along the Wasatch Front should be particularly grateful to the EPA for its efforts and wary of Stewart's attempt to hamstring its work. Plagued by the lung-busting air that settles into the valley every winter, it is the EPA's regulations that are our best shot at beating back vehicular emissions.

In fact, the biggest environmental improvements on the horizon for Utahns suffering from poor air quality are the EPA's proposed Tier 3 rules on cars and gasoline. Instituting Tier 3 will reduce the sulfur content of gas by two-thirds as well as require stringent pollution control systems in new vehicles. All of this can be accomplished while only raising the cost of new, cleaner cars by around $150. Tier 3 alone will reduce vehicle emissions by 30-40%.

If Stewart and other Congressional supporters of HR 1412 succeed, however, this regulation—and other protections—would be weakened, delayed, and possibly never even introduced.

That’s because industry, especially polluting industry, likes business as usual. What they don't like is a regulatory body with teeth that's capable of and willing to protect public health standing in their way. Polluting industries instead want to force families to subsidize industry’s harmful practices with their wallets, their lungs, their bloodstreams, and the health of their children.

If Stewart and his corporate supporters have their way—all the more likely with this week's swearing in of the most industry-friendly Congress since 1929—the EPA would be forced to make decisions based not on science and public health, but industry preference.

HR 1422 threatens the very integrity of science, and the health of our future. It is saddening that Utah’s own Congressman is working so diligently to cripple an agency that has protected us so well.

We must preserve the integrity of scientific processes and work against malicious political efforts such as Stewart's so that the EPA can continue doing its most critical job: safeguarding the health of our loved ones.

Eliza Lyons is a recent graduate of Weber State University with degrees in zoology and environmental science.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.