The GOP Wants the EPA DOA
April 30, 2015
Union of Concerned Scientists & The Hill & The Washington Post
In April, the House passed two bills, H.R. 1029 (the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015) and H.R. 1030 (the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015) that would severely undermine the role of science in protecting public health and the environment. The debate about science in this Congress isn't about carefully selecting which scientific endeavors are worthy of support. The debate is about whether we should use science to protect public health and the environment.
House Passes Deceptive Bills Attacking Science
Statement by Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists
WASHINGTON (March 18, 2015) -- This week, the House passed two bills, H.R. 1029 (the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015) and H.R. 1030 (the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015). These bills would severely undermine the role of science in protecting public health and the environment, according to experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Below is a statement by Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.
"Just as they were the last time they were introduced, these bills are a clear threat to long-standing, bipartisan laws that protect Americans. The EPA's mission, set by law, is to use the best available science to defend public health, safety and the environment -- but these two bills make it nearly impossible for the EPA to do its job.
"The titles and text of these bills are cleverly designed to conceal their purpose, which is to protect industry from any oversight and any limits on their ability to pollute. They introduce unreasonable requirements, new delays and added levels of bureaucracy, and increase the power of corporations to interfere with laws meant to protect us. It's deceptive and cynical to promote these bills with claims about reform and transparency.
"House leaders and their allies in industry don't like the answers science is giving -- so they've written these bills to attack the process. Taken together, these bills are a direct attack on our ability to use science to inform policy."
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.
Science under Attack in the 114th Congress
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Andrew A. Rosenberg, Ph.D
WASHINGTON (February 17, 2015) -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chair of the House Science Committee, recently wrote, "No, the GOP is not at war with science."
But actions speak louder than words. Some in Congress may say science is important, but the truth is we have seen sustained attempts to undermine the use of science in making policy.
The debate about science in this Congress isn't about carefully selecting which scientific endeavors are worthy of support. The debate is about whether we should use science to protect public health and the environment.
Paul and Smith's op-ed focuses on a few small-scale research grants called "wasteful" and unworthy of funding. "Scrutinizing science funding isn't the same as attacking science," they say. While that's true, picking out grants with funny-sounding names distracts from what's actually going on in Congress: preventing federal agencies from using science to do their jobs and protect the American people.
Americans want laws that protect their health, safety and environment, and they expect that their implementation will be based on science, not ideology. Laws like the Clean Air Act are big, bipartisan success stories and perfect examples of how we can use science to improve lives. But they're too popular to take on directly. Instead, Congress has experienced attacks on individual research grants as a way to discredit the robust body of scientific evidence behind the regulations that protect our communities.
Science helps us understand the most effective and efficient way to create policies that are good for people and the planet. Without science, we cannot effectively protect our environment or Americans, leading to negative impacts on our water, air, land, and human health.
For example, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds vital environmental issues in the Great Lakes, such as cleaning up contaminated sediments, mitigating habitat degradation and loss, addressing invasive species, such as Asian carp, and protecting drinking water.
Furthermore, funding organizations such as National Institute of Health (NIH), the world's preeminent medical research institution, is our best hope for finding cures, improving treatments, and gaining a better understanding of the complex causes of diseases that affect millions of people. These funding dollars don't go to ‘wasteful projects' but are crucial to the wellbeing of our society.
Rather than supporting science, many in Congress are advocating for bills that would nullify vital laws that protect American communities by making it next to impossible for the government to use science to implement them. These deceptively named bills are described using vague terms like "reform," "transparency," and "accountability" but would radically overhaul our science-based regulatory system.
Take the "EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act," a cleverly-named bill that passed the House last year. Under the cover of "reforming" the science advisory board of the EPA, this legislation would have prevented scientists from giving advice to agencies based on their own research -- the topics they're the most qualified to weigh in on.
At the same time, it would have allowed industry-paid "experts" more input and more chances to derail new rules. Scientists were left shaking their heads.
Or consider the "Regulatory Accountability Act," which passed by the House earlier this year. It would make science-based policymaking next to impossible by introducing at least 70 new procedural requirements and giving corporations and special interests more power to interfere.
It would require extensive analysis of potential costs of new rules with no commensurate requirement to look at the benefits -- like the 230,000 lives that the Clean Air Act will save by 2020. It's designed to prevent agencies from doing the job that, by law, they're supposed to do. That's the opposite of "accountability" -- and make no mistake, it's an attack on science.
Special interests might see some short-term gain from congressional interference with science-based policy, but in the long term, we will all pay the price. Science matters, and the attacks on science-based policies are real. We certainly shouldn't let ourselves be distracted from that fact.
Quigley has represented Illinois' 5th Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Appropriations and the Intelligence committees. Rosenberg is a director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The GOP's Plan to Stop Environmental Protections: Attack Science
Puneet Kollipara / The Washington Post
(January 28, 2015) -- It's no secret that Republicans aren't fans of the Obama administration's environmental and energy agenda. Republicans have continually called for reining in what they say are burdensome regulations that are hurting the economy. Now, newly in control of both chambers of Congress, Republicans have vowed go after high-profile Obama regulations such as limits on carbon-dioxide and mercury emissions from power plants and tougher ozone standards.
But now, Republicans want to go a step further by going after future regulations. They want to reform the scientific procedures and assessments that agencies -- especially the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- use to determine how tough their policies should be.
Agencies draw on scientific data and the advice of outside scientists all the time to answer policy-related questions. To determine whether to protect a creature under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) might need data on the species' population trends, habitat and vulnerability to environmental threats.
To determine whether a pollutant, cosmetic or pesticide is risky enough to be regulated, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA might need toxicology data from substances' manufacturers and peer-reviewed studies. Agencies also usually seek to estimate policies' benefits and costs in dollar terms.
There's nothing particularly new about the bills, as they were introduced in previous Congresses. But they didn't receive much attention, not only because they concern some highly wonky and obscure procedures, but also because they never came up in the Democratic-held Senate.
Now, though, Republicans can put more pressure on President Obama by trying to send these measures through both chambers of Congress and to his desk. So you can expect to hear about these bills a lot more.
Take, for instance, Rep. Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) Regulatory Accountability Act, which the House approved earlier this month on a mostly party-line vote. In addition to toughening up requirements for agencies' cost-benefit analyses and data disclosure, the bill would also boost public comment opportunities. Proponents say those provisions would mean more transparent and cost-effective regulations.
Then there's the EPA Secret Science Reform Act, sponsored in the last Congress by Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.). Republicans routinely accuse the EPA of not operating transparently with its data.
This bill, which the House hasn't brought up yet this session, would bar EPA from making policies or doing analyses with data that is not "transparent" or "reproducible." Its GOP proponents argue, quite simply, that public policy should use public data.
Republicans could also bring up EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, sponsored in the last Congress by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). The bill would require that advisory panels be "fairly balanced," and more transparent with public comments, which would result in sounder advice to the EPA, proponents say.
On the surface, these bills -- one of which would affect all agencies and two of which target the EPA -- seem well-intentioned. Who wouldn't want more transparency? Indeed, the EPA in particular hasn't exactly been a beacon of transparency during the Obama administration, especially in its handling of the press.
And who wouldn't want agencies to use sounder science? Business and energy lobbying groups have made those arguments in supporting these bills, suggesting that the measures would yield less costly, more scientifically sound regulations.
But agencies like the EPA already struggle to finish regulations and risk assessments on time, if at all, and industry may already be flexing a lot of lobbying muscle. In the Obama administration, "the final versions of many of the most controversial rules were made less stringent," as the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted.
And not only do many regulations take years just to propose, but years more to finalize, especially at the EPA: "Virtually all major EPA regulatory actions are subjected to court challenge, frequently delaying implementation for years," the CRS report said. And, as many Democrats and public-interest groups worry, these bills could simply slow down agencies further and actually reduce their ability to use science.
For starters, already most rules -- and virtually all major ones -- involve one or more public comment periods, in which stakeholders can submit their own data or air complaints. Sometimes agencies take public comment on scientific and economic analyses themselves.
But Regulatory Accountability Act opponents are worried about a provision requiring agencies to calculate the "direct" and "indirect" costs of every possible version of a policy, and another provision letting outside groups request hearings to challenge the data and science behind certain rules. Those provisions could grind agencies to a halt with more hearings and virtually endless analyses, bill opponents argue.
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has suggested that the secret-science bill might also bog down the EPA. The EPA uses about 50,000 studies each year, according to CBO, but under the bill, the agency would need obtain each study's raw data.
Not only would that cost $10,000-$30,000 per study, CBO found, but it would also take time. Absent a budget boost, the EPA "would probably cut the number of studies it relies on by about one-half," CBO said.
The secret-science bill's data requirements also might spur time-consuming lawsuits, public-interest groups worry. Many studies use health or business information that are legally confidential. While the bill states that it wouldn't require the disclosure of any legally protected data, the EPA would need to decide which data actually are protected, and its decisions could be challenged in court.
Then there's the science advisory bill. Opponents are alarmed at a provision allowing scientists with potential conflicts of interest (say, from industry) to serve on advisory panels as long as they disclose their conflict. Another provision barring panelists from advising the agency on matters "directly" or "indirectly" involving their own work has also raised eyebrows.
As Elizabeth Grossman pointed out, the bill "does not clearly define what indirect involvement means," potentially deeming top experts on a subject ineligible to advise the EPA on it. And a provision requiring advisory panels to respond to all public comments could encourage stakeholders to bombard panels with comments just to slow them down, opponents worry.
Republicans such as Goodlatte insist that bills such as his Regulatory Accountability Act would cut regulations' costs, "all without stopping a single needed regulation from being issued," as he said on the House floor. But if bill opponents' concerns hold true, the measures are a recipe not for sounder regulations, but for weaker regulations and fewer of them.
As Christopher Flavelle argues in the case of the secret-science bill, maybe that's the point: "It would, in other words, weaken the agency. Of course it would. That's the purpose of the bill." Not only would agencies need more time, but they might be scared off from making new regulations to begin with.
That's not to say that every Obama policy (or any other president's, for that matter) has drawn on the highest-quality science possible. But regardless of whether these bills genuinely seek to improve executive branch policies, they could easily have another, diametrically opposed set of consequences: to halt many future regulations before they can even get off the ground, whether the benefits exceed the costs or not.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.