NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Protection: Not By Any Other Name

January 12, 2001

A proposal to create a senior scientist position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in order to bolster the EPA's use of science is gaining support in Congress. But Hoover Institution fellow Henry I. Miller states, "...it's like trying to stop a charging rhino with a pea shooter."

The fundamental problem, says Miller, is that using scientific principles to formulate policy is alien to the EPA's "corporate culture." Though the problem was identified in 1992 by an expert panel commissioned by then-EPA administrator William Reilly, it is evident in recent EPA conduct. For example,

  • Ignoring the recommendation of the agency's own scientists, in December 1999 EPA Administrator Carol Browner scrapped a science-based standard for chloroform in drinking water.
  • Regarding Superfund clean-up of toxic waste sites, Reilly says unscientific assumptions about risk "have driven clean-up costs to stratospheric levels."
  • Unscientific approaches to biotechnology regulation have, among other things, halted most research into gene-spliced microorganisms that might be used to clean up oil spills and toxic wastes, says Miller.

In "Science at EPA," published in 1999, the think tank Resources for the Future concludes that, in formulating regulations, "EPA for a variety of reasons is unwilling, unable, and unequipped to address and acknowledge the uncertainties in the underlying science."

Thus, fixing EPA will require much more sweeping and fundamental changes than are currently being discussed, says Miller.

Source: Henry I. Miller (Hoover Institution), "Environmental Protection, In Name Only," Scientist, September 18, 2000.

 

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