Members of disbanded EPA air quality panel form independent group

(Reuters) - Former members of an air quality scientific advisory committee that was disbanded by the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday they were forming an independent panel to continue their work.

FILE PHOTO: An empty podium awaits the arrival of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to address staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen/File Photo

The 20 experts are scheduled to review the science on particulate matter pollution and health beginning at a two-day meeting in Virginia on Oct. 10.

Dubbed the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, the group plans to issue a report on whether the current federal particulate matter standard is adequate, members said.

Their announcement came as the EPA is also currently reviewing national air quality standards for particulate matter.

Members of the independent group previously served on the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Particulate Matter Review Panel, which was disbanded last October by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The seven-member CASAC still exists.

Critics have said the move was part of an effort under Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, to cut the EPA’s reliance on science when writing regulations.

“EPA is committed to scientific integrity and transparency,” the agency said in an emailed statement, when asked about the start-up of the independent panel. “EPA always welcomes comments from the public and it is not uncommon for special interest groups and coalitions to organize, meet and develop comments for submission to the record. EPA will continue to take into consideration these comments that meet our scientific standards.”

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke. It has been linked to a variety of respiratory problems, asthma and lung cancer.

EPA advisory boards provide scientific input for agency decisions around pollution and climate change regulation. They were created by Congress to serve as a check on EPA policies and research.

The independent panel plans to make its report public ahead of a meeting of CASAC next month.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Tom Brown