North Texas Daily

University professor appointed to federal clean air advisory committee

University professor appointed to federal clean air advisory committee

University professor appointed to federal clean air advisory committee
July 30
12:00 2021

Alexandra Ponette-González, biophysical geographer and associate professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment, has been chosen to sit on one of the nation’s top clean air advisory committees.

Ponette-González will serve among six other experts on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

“[CASAC] is one of the most important posts in environmental science and policy,” said Steve Wolverton, professor and department chair of the Department of Geography and the Environment. “Thus, this is big news for UNT because Dr. Ponette-González was selected from a long list of important scientists from significant agencies, research institutes and universities around the country.”

The EPA is an independent executive agency of the federal government tasked with environmental protection matters. Established in 1970, the agency has over 13,000 employees across the country, with about half of its workforce made up of engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists.

CASAC was established under the the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, and the agency meets publicly to consult and peer-review scientific and policy-related assessments developed by the EPA. It also provides advice to on a range of other scientific issues related to pollutants. The committee advises EPA Administrator Michael Regan on the science and technology foundations of the EPA’s work.

“The committee provides independent advice to [Regan] on technical basis of EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” said Tom Brennan, Director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board Staff Office. “This role of the CASAC provides an opportunity to really positively impact air quality in America.”

The recently chosen committee is composed of five women and two men. CASAC members are chosen through what Brennan said is “a publicly transparent process.” The EPA calls for nominations in the federal register, which resulted in 100 nominees this year. The agency then posts the list of candidates for public comment.

The Science Advisory Board Staff Office then evaluates the candidates’ backgrounds, as well as the public comments, and makes recommendations to Regan. Final appointment decisions are made by Regan.

“The people at EPA joined this agency for a specific reason,” Regan told AP News. “They believe in the mission. They believe in public service and they want to protect public health and the environment.”

This year’s committee is the most diverse panel since the establishment of CASAC, with three people of color appointed.

“[Regan] has committed to enhancing diversity throughout the EPA,” Brennan said. “And [his] decision to set the most diverse CASAC in history, I think, is an expression of his commitment to that goal and to diversity in general.”

Brennan said that the committee has a “top notch group of experts” with various backgrounds that are necessary to evaluate air pollution concerns. Ponette-González’s fellow members hail from institutions across the country, including Yale University, the Desert Research Institute in Nevada and the University of Washington.

“I am honored to serve on this critically important federal committee, and to be part of the most diverse panel since the committee’s establishment,” said Ponette-González in a university press release. “I look forward to working with the other chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee members in the coming years.”

Ponette-González teaches at different levels within the Department of Geography and the Environment, from introductory earth science classes to graduate level courses.

“There’s no doubt that [the] very practical, pragmatic, big world impact of [Ponette-González] taking her scientific perspective to a federal committee will come back to the classroom,” Wolverton said. “[…] She’ll be able to talk about [her work on the committee] and make even more clear the impacts of the kinds of things we do in earth science and ecosystems geography. She’s one of our best educators at UNT, so she’s going to do a great job in the classroom bringing this experience.”

Courtesy UNT

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Yaryzza Lira

Yaryzza Lira

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