House Science Committee Moves “Secret Science” Bill; Greens Fret

by William Yeatman on June 26, 2014

in Blog

A policy’s gravity is roughly proportional to the hyperbole it engenders from its opponents. By this admittedly loose metric, H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Reform Act, is of great import. Consider the following charges leveled by House of Representatives Science, Space,  & Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson in her opening remarks during a committee markup of the bill on Tuesday:

  • The Secret Science Reform Act is a “pernicious assault” on EPA
  • It is “anti-science”
  • H.R. 4012 is an “insidious attack” on the agency.

Ranking Member Johnson’s purple tone is echoed by a chorus of special interests, including all of the major green groups and also the fake white coats at both the American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The essence of this “pernicious assault” on EPA is aptly summed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Schweikert: “public data for public policy.” In fact, EPA justifies billion dollar regulations on putative health benefits derivative of epidemiological research that the agency won’t share with the public. Instead, the agency will share the underlying data only with parties sympathetic to the agency’s regulatory agenda. Hence, the Secret Science Reform Act, which would make “publicly available” all “scientific and technical information relied on to support” a given regulation. Again, the simple purpose is public data for public policy.

Quite contrary to what the ranking member would have the public believe, the notion of “secret science” isn’t some wild-eyed Tea Party fantasy. Recently, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith received a letter in support of H.R. 4012 from 80 scientists, including George Wolff, former chair of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee in the Clinton administration and Forrest J. Remick, former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the George H.W. Bush administration. They wrote that the bill would “make the agency’s regulations more accountable, credible, and enforceable.”

The bill passed out of Committee on a party line 17-13 vote. I attended the markup and what follows are some scattered thoughts:

  • Committee comity is low, at least among staffers. There was a dispute of some sort between the majority and minority counsels at the Chairman’s podium about 10 minutes before the hearing began. FWIW, it looked & sounded as if the minority staffer was being condescending. They quieted upon realizing the room was staring at them.
  • The bill sponsor, Rep. Schweikert, is an impressive public speaker. He reminds me of Rep. James Lankford, who is in line for a promotion.
  • The least impressive speaker was Rep. Joe Kennedy. He filed an amendment, and in the course of introducing it, he got nervous and started speaking really, really fast. It sounded like the Micro-Machines guy from the ads of old.
  • Rep. Alan Grayson had the most impressive performance among the minority. He pressed a good query: What if EPA relied on a Harvard Study in the journal Nature, and the authors refuse to hand over the data? What then? I didn’t quite understand the majority’s response. They indicated that the bill’s data disclosure requirements mirror those of Nature and all other reputable journals. No one brought up the matter of federal funding; if the science is paid for by the taxpayer, then the taxpayer should get to see the science. H.R. 4012 doesn’t mention federal funding, either, from what I can tell. Perhaps this is covered in a different statute. IDK.
  • Chairman Lamar Smith’s opening statement rightly called out EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for her “arrogant” defense of the agency’s refusal to share data that underlies EPA public policy:

The EPA clearly sees transparency and accountability as a threat. Speaking before the National Academy of Sciences two months ago, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that her Agency needed to  protect the science “from those not qualified to analyze it.”  

Aside from the arrogance that is indicative of the EPA, Administrator McCarthy herself testified to this committee that the information should be available for independent review and verification. The = American people are still waiting.

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