with Paulina Firozi


Under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to limit the outside scientific research it takes into account when it writes new regulations.

The latest example: The EPA just decided to dismiss dozens of outside scientists who were charged with advising the agency on how to set air pollution standards -- or being considered for that role. 

Last week, the agency informed scientists advising the EPA on the health impacts of soot that their “service on the panel has concluded,” according to an email The Post's Juliet Eilperin and I reported on over the weekend. Experts being considered to sit on a separate board evaluating ground-level ozone also received an email from the EPA saying it will no longer form the panel, which had yet to meet. The EPA had asked for nominations in July.

In the past, each panel had roughly two dozen researchers who reviewed the latest air pollution science and made recommendations on how to set new air standards for a specific pollutant the agency is legally obligated to regulate. These experts, who came from a variety of fields, often encouraged the EPA to impose tougher limits on the six pollutants for which it sets nationwide standards.

Now, under acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA has instead decided to let a seven-member group called the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) alone perform those assessments and make recommendations to the agency’s political leaders. Previously, CASAC and the now-scrapped panels worked together to craft findings. 

Environmentalists sharply criticized the decision as another instance of the Trump administration’s curtailing the use of science that contradicts the president’s pro-industry agenda. “By removing science and scientists, they are making it easier for the administration to set a weaker standard” said Gretchen Goldman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.

While its decision to disband the outside panels is a break from past administrations, concentrating power in the smaller CASAC is legal, the agency said. “Consistent with the Clean Air Act and CASAC’s charter, Acting Administrator Wheeler tasked the seven-member chartered CASAC to serve as the body to review key science assessments for the ongoing review of the particulate matter and ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” the agency told The Post in a statement.

The 20-member Particulate Matter Review Panel, which was disbanded Thursday, had spent the past few years working with the EPA on developing more stringent standards for soot emitted by cars, power plants and other sources. This microscopic pollution, which can become embedded in the bloodstream and airways, has been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read more about the the disbanding of the two science panels here:

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President Trump’s interview for “60 Minutes” touched on a wide range of topics, including climate change, North Korea and his mockery of Christine Blasey Ford. (Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

— "I don't think it's a hoax": Trump was pressed on his climate views in a wide-ranging “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday night. Asked by Lesley Stahl if he still believed climate change was a “hoax,” Trump said: “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t’ think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade.” When Stahl asked Trump about “scientists who say it’s worse than ever,” Trump questioned their motives. “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda, Lesley.”

— "Way too difficult": Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow seemed to dismiss the importance of the IPCC report during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. He called the UN report “way, way too difficult” adding “I won’t say it’s a scare tactic but I think they overestimate.” “We're always studying these things,” Kudlow said. “The issue here though is magnitudes and timing… I’m not denying any climate-change issues. I’m just saying, do we know precisely, and I mean worth modeling, things like how much of it is man-made, how much of it is solar, how much of it is oceanic, how much of it is rain forest and other issues? I think we’re still exploring all of that."

— "What is attributable": On another Sunday morning show, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said there has been a “measurable” rise in sea levels and ocean temperatures but questioned the size of that role. “I think many scientists would debate the percentage of what is attributable to man versus normal fluctuations,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

— "Making a bad situation worse": Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Kudlow’s comments “so irresponsible, so dangerous.” He continued, “We are in crisis mode, and you have an administration that virtually does not even recognize the reality of climate change, and their policies, working with the fossil fuel industry, are making a bad situation worse,” Sanders said.

— "Republicans need to be at the forefront": Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called the UN report “pretty dire” and urged his Republican colleagues to take action on rising temperatures. “I hope that we can move along with the rest of the world and address this… It’s going to be challenging . . . but there are things that we can do and should do, and I think Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats.”

Read more here from The Post’s Elise Viebeck and Chris Mooney about how politicians responded to the report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

President Trump spoke about the damage in Florida and Georgia from Hurricane Michael at a rally in Richmond, Ky. Oct. 13. (The Washington Post)

— Trump to go to hurricane-hit states: The president is set to visit Florida and George on Monday to survey damage caused by Michael along with first lady Melania Trump, according to the Associated Press. During a rally in Kentucky on Saturday, he praised disaster response efforts underway. “They got hit hard,” Trump said of the impacted states, calling the storm “one of the most vicious we’ve ever been hit with.”  

Dove Rest RV Park in Marianna, Fla. was left in shambles after Hurricane Michael hit. Neighbors say no city personnel has shown up to assist with the damage. (Whitney Leaming, Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

— “We’re back to frontier days”: Meanwhile on the ground, the aftermath of Michael for some means washing clothes in a bucket and bathing in a creek, as more than 250,000 across Florida were still without power over the weekend, The Post’s Patricia Sullivan, Luz Lazo, Frances Stead Sellers and Joel Achenbach report. Some residents who live in vulnerable structures and in mobile homes are “fearing they’ve been forgotten by the outside world,” they write.

— In the dark: Essential services like electricity and telecommunications are slowly being restored to communities in the Florida Panhandle, but still residents in the most vulnerable areas are in the dark and feeling isolated,  The Post’s Patricia Sullivan reports. “About 200,000 Floridians are still sleeping in the dark and unable to operate their well water pumps,” she writes. “Many are running out of fuel in their vehicles. While this number has dropped from its peak of about 400,000, much of the power restoration has happened in places like Tallahassee, where the storm was not as severe and where restaurants and stores began reopening this weekend. The hardest-hit counties in the Panhandle remain in a primitive state.”

— "Hard Luck City": The city of Albany in Georgia, nicknamed “The Good Life City” has been hit with devastation three times in the last two years. First a tornado ripped through the region, then Hurricane Irma devastated the region’s crops eight months later, and last week, the community was hit again by Hurricane Michael, The Post’s Luz Lazo reports. “Albany has become the Hard Luck City. Misery abounds,” one former resident told The Post.

— "This same cycle over and over": Federal Emergency Management Agency chief William “Brock” Long criticized U.S. disaster policy at multiple levels of government for leading to “this same cycle over and over” following hurricanes. “Until we get building codes passed at local and state levels that are meaningful, then we’re going to continue to see a lot of damage and destruction,” Long said, according to Bloomberg News. He also criticized people in impacted areas who did not listen to evacuation warnings and who don’t have proper insurance. “Insurance is the first line of defense… We see far too often where people pay off their mortgage and then let their insurance lapse, and then their house burns down,” Long added.

— A test for a new FEMA initiative: The back-to-back hits from Hurricanes Florence and Michael were the first true test for an effort from FEMA that began in April to embed "a small group of FEMA employees in state agencies full time to create a more seamless response,” The Post’s Frances Stead Sellers reports. The so-called FEMA Integration Teams "are there before disaster happens to help create efficiencies between state and federal systems, while still encouraging each state to develop its own ‘culture of preparedness.’” Those teams are now set up in North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Indiana and Virginia. The Florida team was not in place before Michael struck.


— Clean up climate change? It’s good for business: Corporate pledges to respond to climate change have ramped up following the ominous UN climate report. “Historically, corporations have been complicit in the world’s climate problem,” The Post’s Steven Mufson, Brady Dennis and Mooney report. “Recently, however, there has been a palpable change in the way business leaders talk about climate change… With trillions of dollars at stake, corporations have forged ahead to create sustainable businesses. They are taking steps to lower their carbon footprints and overhaul their supply chains in a race against rising seas and temperatures. Others are trying to achieve the ultimate goal: pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and using or storing it.”

— Where carbon pricing is and isn't working: William Nordhaus of Yale, who this month won the Nobel Prize in economic science for studying how carbon taxes can address climate change, talked to the New York Times about the few governments that are experimenting with his theories on taxing polluters. “It was a catastrophic failure in the European Union,” he said before adding that there are signs of carbon pricing working in South Korea and the Canadian province of British Columbia. 


Coming Up

  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a discussion on LNG exports on Tuesday.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a meeting on Thursday.
  • The Atlantic Council holds an event on “The Role of Advanced Energy in National Security and a Resilient Grid” on Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds a field hearing on Friday.
  • The U.S. Association for Energy Economics National Capital Area Chapter holds a presentation on “What the midterm elections may mean for energy policy” on Friday.

—Here's what Michael looked and sounded like as it made landfall: 

Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane Oct. 10. It charged north through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia. (The Washington Post)