​House GOP passes bill allowing corporate-linked experts to advise EPA

​House GOP passes bill allowing corporate-linked experts to advise EPA
The House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it harder for scientists to guide the Environmental Protection Agency and easier for those with financial links to corporations to sit on the advisory panel.

In a 229 – 191 vote led primarily by Republicans, the House passed legislation on Tuesday dubbed H.R. 1422, which essentially restricts the EPA’s ability to appoint scientists to its Science Advisory Board. The SAB is crucial in helping the EPA craft rules and regulations regarding pollution and public health.

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Under the terms of the bill, the EPA would not be allowed to exclude individuals “due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest” in the regulations under consideration. Opponents of the bill said this clears the way for corporate-linked experts to potentially serve on the SAB.

At the same time, the bill prohibits the EPA from listening to scientists whose peer-reviewed work has been cited in scientific discussions on whatever issue is being considered.

“The supposed intent [of the bill] is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) on the House floor on Tuesday, as quoted by ThinkProgress. “It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.”

A stop sign stands outside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) building (Mark Wilson / Getty Images / AFP)

In a letter to Congress issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the group specifically noted that the restriction against peer-reviewed researchers did not make sense.

“This effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are,” the letter reads.

“This proposal will make it nearly impossible for the [SAB] to do the crucial independent evaluations of EPA scientific analyses that enable the agency to protect public health,” the letter added. “This bill opens the door for more corporate influence on the Board, because the bill directly stipulates that experts with financial ties to corporations affected by SAB assessments are ‘not excluded.’”

However, Republicans championed the bill’s passage by arguing that it was a move towards greater transparency at the EPA. Three industry experts currently serve on the 51-person SAB, but supports claim the number should be higher.

“All we’re asking is that there be some balance to those experts, and that there further be transparency and understanding of who was selected, why they were selected, and why others were excluded,” said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), the bill’s sponsor. “We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them in the process.”

While the bill passed the House easily, it faces a nearly impossible path to becoming law. The Senate is not voting on similar legislation, and President Obama said he will veto it in the event that it comes to his desk, The Hill reported.

The vote comes as EPA chief Gina McCarthy vowed to press forward with regulation on carbon and methane emissions despite GOP opposition. The agency is currently wrapping up the details on its next set of regulations, which will cut emissions from existing coal plants.