April 4, 2017: House Republicans attempt to alter EPA’s use of science

House passes two bills to limit EPA use of science, decision-making

On Wednesday March 29 and Thursday March 30, the House of Representatives passed two separate bills that seek to change the ways that EPA can use science in informing regulations.

On Wednesday, the House passed the HONEST Act, or “The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017”. The Act was introduced by Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. For a number of years, Rep Smith has consistently introduced similar legislation to the House via his committee, although it never progressed.

The HONEST Act follows the heels of a hearing held by Rep Smith on February 7th entitled, “Making EPA Great Again” (the title of which should ring some alarm bells). The Hearing, and the House bill, both deal with the ways that EPA can use science, and come out of conservative concerns that EPA pursues a “political agenda, not a scientific one”. The bill makes it so any regulatory decision that EPA makes must be based on science that is “publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction”. Essentially, the bill makes it so the agency must rely solely on data that is open and available. The language sounds really nice- but it didn’t fool the 194 Congresspeople, mostly all Democrats, who voted against the bill. The HONEST Act would tie the hands of the agency in decision-making, further complicating and slowing down the work of the agency. This is an anti-EPA bill and it comes out of the conservative tradition of questioning the scientific legitimacy of environmental issues.

On Thursday, the House passed the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. This Act reforms the selection process for EPA’s Science Advisory Boards (SAB), which is a group of individuals that is empowered to give EPA advice on scientific problems and on the best ways to utilize scientific knowledge. The bill mandates that scientific “points of view” (which is a thing, I guess) on the board be “fairly balanced”, and pave the way for industry representatives to be appointed to the board under an industry-friendly EPA administrator. The language of the bill, similarly to the HONEST Act, is couched in friendly language about transparency in the regulatory process. Make no mistake, the purpose of the bill is certainly not to enhance the level of scientific integrity employed by EPA. It is a political mission to ensure EPA cannot regulate.

Taken together, these bills represent a Republican-led Congress that is both skeptical of and ideologically opposed to the work that EPA does. By pushing these bills through, Republicans show that they are not interested in supporting an agency that has the tools to respond to modern environmental challenges, and perpetuate a insidious myth about the rigor of present-day scientific evidence that only helps them delay action on climate change.

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Author: Jared Sousa

Macalester College '2017, Political Science and Environmental Studies

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