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Republicans: 'The EPA Is a Helicopter Mom'

At a House Science Committee hearing on states' role in EPA rule-making, Republicans lamented a supposed parent-child relationship between the federal agency and its state-level counterparts.
The Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C.

At a Tuesday morning hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Republican committee members and witnesses called the Environmental Protection Agency "out of control," out of date, and guilty of regulatory overreach and cherry-picking science. Two witnesses from state-level regulatory agencies likened the relationship between the EPA and states to that between a parent and children. Becky Keogh, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality called the EPA a "helicopter mom."

At the hearing on "expanding the role of states in EPA rule-making," Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat representing Texas' 30th district, reminded the committee that the EPA had been created to protect the environment and public health and "not the profits of private corporations," at a time when states were not stepping up to do so themselves.

"Some of us still remember that the EPA was created because the states were not doing a good job," Johnson said.

Misael Cabrera, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, told the committee members that now, nearly five decades after the creation of the EPA, states finally have the scientific and policy expertise to take the environmental reins. When it comes to environmental policy, Cabrera said, "state implementation plans are better than federal implementation plans 100 percent of the time."

Deborah L. Swackhamer, chair of the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, testified that, while implementation should happen at the state level, the federal government is more likely to have the resources to develop the science that policies should be based on, and the EPA can ensure consistency and a "minimum bar" of environmental quality across the nation. "Air and water don't respect geopolitical boundaries," Swackhamer said.

Swackhamer said she is troubled by the "politicization and marginalization" of science by the current administration, and, while she stressed the importance of robust, independent science in policymaking, she evaded questions about what level of government should be responsible for ensuring that that's the case. "As long as the science is behind the actions taken," she said, it matters less "whether it occurs at a state or federal level."

Several committee members asked Swackhamer about EPA head Scott Pruitt's decision earlier this month not to renew the contracts of nine members of the Board of Scientific Counselors. While Pruitt provided no reasoning for his decision to Swackhamer or to the remaining committee members, news outlets reported that Pruitt hoped to diversify the board to include industry insiders. Typically, board members are renewed for a second three-year term, and four other board members left after their second term ended.

The board's next subcommittee meeting is in August, which means the EPA has three months to complete what would typically be an eight-month vetting process to appoint 13 new members.