EPA administrator Michael Regan appears to be moving forward on his commitment to increase the role of science in EPA activities. He announced a new process called Science Supporting EPA Decisions, which will offer a structured opportunity to conduct peer reviews of actions developed by EPA earlier in the rule making process.

The process will involve “scoping” and identifying the need for peer review in EPA decisions, in an attempt to grow public confidence in the EPA’s commitment to scientific integrity. It will be guided by a work group of Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members called the SAB Work Group for Review of Science Supporting EPA Decisions.

According to the EPA memo included in the press release, the SAB is authorized to:

  • Review the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information being used         by the EPA or proposed as the basis for agency regulations
  • Review EPA research programs and plans
  • Provide advice on broad scientific matters and as requested by the EPA Administrator

The Center is encouraged by this announcement, as it follows our mission to promote the use of the most rigorous science available in a transparent manner for regulatory decision making.

It’s too early to know if this new action will actually result in use of sound science to guide EPA, but a few issues have been raised that may determine its effectiveness:

Will the scientists on the work group be independent enough to challenge proposed actions?

They are a subgroup of those appointed to serve on the SAB, which is a very distinguished position for one’s career. In many cases, they are also grantees of EPA research funding. Is there enough separation to ensure unbiased recommendations?

Dr. Susan Dudley, director of the GW Regulatory Studies Center and distinguished professor at George Washington University, is not so sure:

“By embedding the SAB in every stage of a rule making, EPA’s new process risks allowing a small group of reviewers to shut out discussion on important scientific and technical topics. It may even foreclose consideration of regulatory alternatives that might address pressing needs.”

Dr. Dudley has suggested ways to refine the new process, including a way for public and outside scientific comments to be gathered earlier in the process, and possibly using crowdsourcing.

Will the peer review process regularly include experts who are outside of the current SAB to ensure that a particular area of science is adequately covered?

While EPA is set up for this regarding current SAB activities, the process announced last week does not  mention how this will be applied to the new overarching involvement of peer review.

Even though EPA explicitly states there will be no involvement of the SAB or the work group in policymaking, is it really feasible to separate these?

The new process went into effect as of February 28, 2022. The Center, along with many others I’m sure, will be watching closely as it unfolds. We hope to report an increase in sound science as a factor in EPA decision making in the near future.