Proposals to curtail federal oversight over wetlands, and to allow power plants to emit more mercury, are facing criticism from an internal source: the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, including many Trump administration appointees.
The board is scheduled to make final its response to the new rules on January 17. The panel posted drafts critical of the proposed rules on December 31.
The comments take the form of letters from the board to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
One draft criticizes the administration’s proposal to reinterpret the Clean Water Act in a way that would remove federal jurisdiction over most of the nation’s wetlands.
“Aspects of the proposed (clean-water-act) rule are in conflict with established science…and the objectives of the Clean Water Act,” the draft reads.
Another proposal would weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which are responsible for substantial reductions in airborne mercury. Before MATS, power plant emissions were a significant source of mercury in water bodies and freshwater fish in the Northeast.
The board was more measured in its draft assessment of this change, inviting the EPA to review its own studies on airborne mercury and other analyses that suggest the EPA may have underestimated the size of mercury’s health effects when the agency adopted MATS.
The draft recommends that the agency conduct a new risk assessment before proceeding.
The draft response to the plan to redefine CWA jurisdiction notes that the proposed rule “does not fully incorporate EPA’s 2015 Connectivity Report.” In 2017comments to the EPA, NEIWPCC had recommended that any new interpretation be based on part on that study.
The MATS rule was a direct result of a request made by NEIWPCC and twelve states.
The CWA jurisdiction proposal, the draft concludes, “decreases protection for our nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical, and biological integrity’ of these waters.”
The Science Advisory Board includes many Trump administration appointees, including the panel’s chair. The drafts were developed in consultation with the full board.
The committee is also weighing draft letters critical of administration proposals to inhibit the use of scientific data by the EPA and to roll back standards for motor-vehicle fuel efficiency.
iWR • January 2020 • To front page