Dr. Larry Wolk

Several leading western health experts and state health officials are among a select list of nominees now being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the agency announced this week. The body provides advice and recommendations to the EPA administrator on air quality.

The list of nominees includes public health officials like Dr. Larry Wolk, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Chief Medical Officer for the state of Colorado, and Dr. Steven Packham, Toxicologist in the Division of Air Quality for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

A total of 43 candidates are under consideration to fill the CASAC vacancy when the current chair’s term expires on Sept. 30.

Dr. Ana Diez Roux’s replacement must be both a medical doctor and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in order to fulfill the advisory committee’s requirements, just as Diez Roux currently does. The EPA is accepting comments on the nominees through Sept. 18.

“Under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA can look forward to more balanced and transparent advisory boards than the agency has had in recent years,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, told Western Wire via email.

“The current Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee candidate list boasts many experts who will provide independent and unbiased scientific advice. I am confident that these candidates and those eventually appointed will review EPA regulations and actions in an open and transparent manner, employ their expertise to inform policy debates, and provide valuable input that will justify decisions that impact the lives of millions of Americans,” Smith said.

CASAC was established under the Clean Air Act amendments of 1977 and the seven-member body provides advice and recommendations to the EPA administrator on air quality and National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). CASAC experts serve a three-year term and Diez Roux’s replacement will be selected by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as early as next month.

Diez Roux, a Professor of Epidemiology and Dean of the Drexel School of Public Health is also among the candidates for the open seat.

“I’m a strong believer that the committee, as self-named, is the Clean Air Scientific ‘Advisory’ Committee,” Dr. Roger O. McClellan told Western Wire, emphasizing the advisory role to the agency administrator played by the committee. “These appointments are very important.”

McClellan, a former chairman of CASAC and strong proponent of science-based decision-making, is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and has held numerous advisory and leadership positions on inhalation toxicology and is an expert in human health risk analysis. He also emphasized geographical diversity for CASAC membership, noting his fulltime residence in New Mexico at the time of his service, as well as that of a colleague from the neighboring state of Texas.

Having experts from diverse backgrounds was “extraordinarily valuable,” according to McClellan, especially when they had “boots on the ground experience” in representative states in the West. McClellan hopes the nominees include representation from the “extended heartland” of Rocky Mountain West states and that the appointment goes to an individual from the region.

“They’re going to have a general understanding of energy issues,” said McClellan. “It’s awfully hard to disconnect energy and air quality.”

“Science informs policy judgments,” McClellan said. “Some scientists mix up their science with what their personal preference would be for a policy outcome. When that happens—bad news.”

For the Albuquerque-based McClellan, science does not dictate the approach to policy questions but it needs to inform those decisions, he said.

Among the 43 nominees are academics, independent consultants, and state health and air quality regulators from across the country. In May, the EPA told Politico “there will be a concerted effort to assure diverse scientific perspectives on advisory panels and to look for additional ways to strengthen scientific review at EPA.”

Dr. Sabine Lange, section manager for the Toxicology Division at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, is among the public health officials nominated. Other Western candidates include Denver-based Dr. Tony Cox, an independent consultant in quantitative health risk analysis and University of Arizona Professor of Medicine, Dr. Joe Garcia. Dr. Jennifer Peel, Professor of Epidemiology, and Dr. A.R. Ravishankara, Distinguished Professor in Chemistry and Atmospheric Science, are nominees from Colorado State University.