EPA Air Review Draws Fire

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Science  21 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5772, pp. 351
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5772.351b

Activists are criticizing a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to speed up its regular review of air-quality standards. They fear that some of the changes would allow undue political influence on staff scientists who develop the standards.

By law, EPA must revisit its National Ambient Air Quality Standards every 5 years. Staff scientists evaluate the latest research and propose ranges for new standards, which are then reviewed by the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Because EPA regularly misses its deadline and gets sued, an internal EPA committee proposed several suggestions in April for speeding up the process. Among them, the panel called for “early involvement of EPA senior management and/or outside parties in the framing of policy-relevant issues.”

That language set off “flashing red lights” for John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worries about political interference. “The idea isn't to have the policy drive the science,” counters EPA chief scientist George Gray. Instead, he says, management and CASAC would help experts focus on the most relevant research. EPA is eager to act soon, but Gray says there will be opportunities for public comment.

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