EPA’s Pretense of Science
Regulating Phantom Risks
Friday, 18 May 2012 - 12:00am
I write this paper on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) misuse of science from my six-year former experience as a final regulatory decision-maker for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the world’s second largest environmental regulatory agency after the EPA itself. I was a commissioner and chairman, of TCEQ from 2001-2007. My responsibility for making final decisions on regulations, permits, and enforcement actions necessarily involved my judgments about the rigor, accuracy, and relative uncertainties in diverse scientific studies, statistics, modeling protocols, and technical analyses. I viewed this “science” as a critical tool to inform—but not to dictate—what were ultimately legal and policy decisions. Various members of the scientific community claim that non-scientists, like me, cannot challenge the credibility of the EPA’s use of science. This view maintains that only credentialed scientists can critique the work of other credentialed scientists. If that is the case, so much the worse for representative democracy.
Government by popularly elected representatives on the one hand and government by federal administrators swearing by the authority of science, on the other hand, are contradictory notions. I would call the latter, moreover, an acutely dangerous notion. Regrettably, in the modern United States these two incompatible policy-making models clash often, and with dire results. Elected officials trying to carry out their public duties—e.g. maximizing access to clean, affordable energy—meet stubborn opposition from federal mandarins brandishing their scientific credentials. The magnitude of the EPA’s current regulatory agenda has elevated the importance of these issues.