This will do more than all the laws to change the culture.
It surely needed to be done.
Lawrence Solomon: The corruption of environmental regulation goes down the swamp drain
EPA board members have for years been pocketing jaw-dropping grants from the very agency they’ve been advising U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
November 3, 2017
11:29 AM EDT
Hardly a week goes by without Donald Trump finding new ways to drain the swamp. This week is no exception, with a cleanup announced for the Environmental Protection Agency that will especially target the global warming gravy train.
Here’s how the gravy train operated until now: The EPA has 22 advisory committees. Many of these committee’s board members — charged with providing independent, unbiased scientific advice for the EPA — have themselves been conducting the research they determined was needed. But they don’t do it as volunteers: Instead, these board members have for years been pocketing jaw-dropping grants from the very agency they’ve been advising. Of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee’s 26 members, for example, 24 were grantees, collectively receiving US$220 million in EPA grants. This conflict of interest has been especially egregious in the field of global warming, according to the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, where members have the greatest financial incentives and sometimes obtained EPA grants “to the tune of literally tens of millions of dollars.”
The EPA’s past administrators were not being bilked, however — they were buying the research results they wanted. When President Obama assumed office eight years ago, he cleaned house at the EPA of those who might question the environmental orthodoxy. Staff and board positions were stocked with true believers or those who feigned true belief, to secure their positions. The sweetener of lucrative grants to compromised advisers helped assuage any guilt the members might have felt in skewing their research to provide the Obama administration with the “science-based evidence” it needed to justify its global warming agenda.
Hardly a week goes by without Donald Trump finding new ways to drain the swamp
The cronyism at the EPA may have deepened under Obama, but by no means did he begin it. “For decades, EPA’s assorted advisory boards have been packed with people who could be relied upon to rubber-stamp EPA’s regulatory actions,” states the National Center for Public Policy Research. That view was echoed by an EPA reformer in The Wall Street Journal in July: “In effect, EPA-funded researchers are empowered to review and approve their own work in order to rubber-stamp the EPA’s regulatory agenda. This is all done under the guise of ‘independence.’”
The Trump administration has ended this corrupt system through several reforms. First, it’s banning any self-dealing — in future, no sitting member of any EPA advisory board can be awarded a contract for EPA work. “You have to choose either grant or serve on the board. You can’t do both,” declared Pruitt, thus eliminating a financial incentive that researchers in future would have to pander to ideologues — of the left or the right — at his agency.
Next, the Trump administration will seek a diversity of scientific views — the 22 committees are now required to follow the express intent of the law and be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.” In part, they will do this by drawing on experts from across the country in order to bring different experiences and perspectives into the mix. The old EPA had not only excluded scientists who challenged the global warming orthodoxy, it had also been excluding scientists from Middle America whose regional perspectives would have challenged the coastal-culture groupthink. And to make sure that fresh perspectives were always on offer, and that advisers don’t see themselves as having a sinecure from which they can wield ongoing bureaucratic power, the advisory committees will regularly rotate members to allow fresh faces with fresh ideas to surface.
These reforms come on the heels of others
These reforms come on the heels of others in October to end what has become known as a “sue and settle policy,” a mechanism used by the EPA in league with special interests to exclude the public and affected parties from the normal rulemaking process set by Congress. Under this mechanism, which the Obama administration used 137 times, the Sierra Club, for example, would sue the EPA over some claim relating to the global warming agenda that would require new rules difficult if not impossible to achieve through Congress. The EPA would then settle the case through closed-door negotiations by agreeing to impose regulations.
Through this mechanism the Obama administration pushed through sweeping changes, including its Clean Power Plan, which enabled the Paris Climate Agreement to occur, and the MACT rule, which forced utilities to adopt overly stringent pollution controls on coal- and oil-fired electric power plants at a cost approaching US$10 billion per year. For good measure, the EPA would pay fat fees to the environmental groups’ lawyers.
“Sue and settle” effectively gave special interests and the EPA the ability to make rules outside the EPA’s authority, sidestepping Congress and state governments and denying the public and industries affected by regulations the opportunity to make their case. That ended last month, with reforms requiring open hearings, publication of proceedings, public participation, timely notifications to states and affected parties, and an end to the attorney fees and litigation costs that made suing a profitable activity in its own right.
The swamp is deep and murky, the better to hide from public view the obscure methods through which sordid backroom deals were done. As it’s drained, more and more rot becomes exposed; as it’s drained, transparency and accountability comes to government.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com