Dr. Larry Wolk

Two Western health experts—Dr. Larry Wolk and Dr. Tony Cox—will be appointed to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt later today, Western Wire has learned.

Wolk, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Chief Medical Officer for the state of Colorado, will join Cox, President of Cox Associates and an expert specializing in quantitative risk analysis, and Dr. James Boylan, Manager for the Air Protection Branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, on the CASAC committee.

Cox is expected to be made chair of CASAC at EPA’s 2pm EDT announcement.

The seven-member CASAC, established under the Clean Air Act amendments of 1977, provides advisory recommendations to the EPA administrator on air quality and National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Experts appointed to the committee serve a three-year term.

“We’re glad to see a Republican EPA choosing a western air quality regulator from a Democratic administration for this important role. It shows once again there is much more agreement than disagreement over energy policy than is often portrayed,” Simon Lomax, research fellow for Vital for Colorado, a coalition of state business leaders focused on energy policy, told Western Wire.

Wolk has served at CDPHE since his 2013 appointment by Gov. John Hickenlooper, and has served in many healthcare capacities, founding the Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics in 1996. Wolk will provide a Western state air quality regulator’s perspective on challenging public health issues, including pushing back on a report earlier in 2017 that claimed oil and gas operations were associated with childhood leukemia. Wolk called the report “misleading . . . it does not prove or establish such a connection.”

Wolk has also addressed activists citing public health concerns without having evidence of health issues on policy areas like oil and gas setbacks.

“Western states face a unique set of air quality challenges, chief among them background ozone from outside the country and natural sources like wildfires,” Lomax said.

“Right now, states in the West are facing economic sanctions from the federal government based on air pollution they didn’t cause and can’t control. This makes no sense, especially in Colorado, which has an excellent track record of cutting pollution and cleaning up the air. Having a respected Western regulator on CASAC means there is a stronger chance of a solution to this problem that will be fair to Colorado and other states,” Lomax said.

In 2015, Wolk said addressing ground-level ozone would “be a significant challenge for a variety of reasons. There’s strong scientific evidence that the ‘background’ ozone concentrations in some Colorado locales on certain days are 50 parts per billion or higher,” he said. “This background pollution comes from out of state and in some cases out of the country. It needs to be accounted for somehow, and requires flexibility in the planning and implementation process.”

Cox’s nod for the CASAC chair earned praise from colleagues across the country, who described his objectivity in following the data, professional ability to work with others on difficult and contentious issues, and his expert credentials within the area of risk analysis, especially on modeling and methodology.

“Tony is extremely well-qualified for the committee, well-respected within risk analysis, and especially is widely-read in terms of the variety of methods that he is familiar with and brings to bear,” Dr. Vicki M. Bier, Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Western Wire.

“Methodologically he is very strong and objective, and goes where the data and the evidence takes him,” Bier added. According to Bier, Cox’s thoughtfulness, even in areas of disagreement, will make him an asset to lead the committee.

Cox also serves as the Chief Sciences Officer of NextHealth Technologies, and has multiple faculty appointments at the University of Colorado Denver in Mathematics, Biostatistics and Informatics, and Preventive Medicine and Biometrics. He is the editor-in-chief of the journal Risk Analysis, and has provided expert testimony before Congress on a variety of subjects, including the public health effects of ozone. He has previous Science Advisory Board experience, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“In terms of being able to lead the committee in challenging times with a lot of political controversies, he is extremely objective,” Bier said, adding that she does not view Cox’s appointment as a political one.

According to Bier, the study of risk analysis attempts to answer questions where a lot of uncertainty exists in assessing hazards, and cannot be answered in a simple way by pure statistics due to multiple variables and other confounding factors. An example of risk analysis, Bier said, would be determining whether smoking bans reduced the rate of heart attacks, and by how much.

Dr. Gary Kochenberger, Professor and Interim Director of the MBA program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, told Western Wire, “Dr. Cox has years of experience successfully applying modern modeling and analysis methodologies to challenging problems in business and government.  I have no doubt that he would be a very valuable member of the Advisory committee.”

Kochenberger added that Cox “is widely acknowledged as an expert in decision analysis, particularly in the areas of causal analysis and modeling for decision and risk analysis,” and has received top marks from students for his decision analysis course at CU Denver.

“We appreciate Administrator Pruitt’s willingness to encourage nominations and select qualified experts from state and local environmental agencies for service on critical advisory panels like the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), Science Advisory Board (SAB), and the Board of Scientific Counselors,” Stuart Spencer, President, Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies and Associate Director, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said in a statement.

“Geographically diverse state and local officials have a unique, independent perspective as a result of their on-the-ground experience carrying out the Clean Air Act and other environmental statutes. Today’s announcement of new advisors, including senior air quality personnel from state environmental agencies reflects the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies’ recent comments on the candidates for SAB and CASAC.”

“Geographically diverse state, local, and tribal contributors have unique, direct experience with the NAAQS, including expertise that could help CASAC carrying out the full responsibilities in its charter and Section 109(d) of the CAA,” AAPCA said in its letter on CASAC nominees.

The Council of State Governments West wrote to a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee in 2015, expressing concern over the dearth of CASAC members from states in the West.

“For EPA’s seven-member chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, whose recommendations establish the range to be considered by EPA in setting national air pollution standards, not a single member has come from EPA Region 6 (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX), Region 7 (IA, KS, MO, NE), Region 8 (CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY), or Region 10 (AK, ID, OR, WA) since at least 2010,” CSG West said.

With Wolk and Cox joining the committee, CASAC will now feature three members from Region 8 and 10.

Dr. Roger O. McClellan told Western Wire in August that having experts from diverse backgrounds was “extraordinarily valuable,” especially those with “boots on the ground experience” in representative states in the West.

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