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‘Politicized Science’ Could Cause Federal Takeover Of Texas Waters

Politicized science pushed by environmental activists may cost the state of Texas its water rights, according to a state environmental policy expert.

Kathleen Hartnett of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation argues that environmentalists have used misleading science on the whooping crane to strip Texas of its right to control its own waterways.

How can a crane cause a federal takeover of state’s water rights? Environmental groups have sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for allegedly causing the deaths of 23 whooping cranes, an endangered species, from water diversions during 2008 and 2009. In March 2013, a federal district court judge ruled against the state; then, the case was reversed in an appellate court and could be headed for the Supreme Court.

Sounds bad, but here’s the catch: A year after the state supposedly killed nearly two dozen whooping cranes, 17 “dead” cranes reappeared.

But the FWS report and the updated crane population count won’t be included in the trial. The federal judge handling the case rejected a 2012 motion to reopen the case, which is problematic because parties can’t add new evidence at the appellate or Supreme Court level.

Hartnett, a former TCEQ chair, said “very weak, possibly politicized science could be the basis for a dramatic takeover” of Texas’s water rights. A federal judge could rule that Texas violated the Endangered Species Act based on flimsy science that conflates correlation with causation, Hartnett argues.

In essence, environmental activists may be able to convince the courts that Texas is violating federal law. This could clear the way for a federal takeover of Texas water rights over the Guadalupe and San Antonio river basins.

“If you’re going to take away human water rights in favor of animal rights, it should be based on sound science,” Hartnett told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview.

A federal takeover could happen despite successful conservation efforts by state and federal regulators. In 1941, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the world’s whooping crane population. But today, there about 215 cranes– a growing number, despite huge human population increases and increased withdrawal of water for human use.

Hartnett testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday on how science is being politicized to push an ideological agenda. It’s not just environmental groups in Texas that are using such science, she says, it’s also federal agencies like the EPA that “cherry-pick” science that back their regulatory agenda.

Her testimony comes after a Senate committee passed a bill that would require the EPA to only use scientific studies that are publicly available to form the foundation of the agency’s rulemaking.

Currently, the EPA uses studies that aren’t publicly available to craft regulations. These “secret” studies often allow the EPA to justify massive regulations that they say will have lots of benefits.

“EPA literally does cherry-pick data that justifies the biggest regulation and then moves forward,” Hartnett said.

For example, the EPA’s mercury emissions rule for power plants has been heavily criticized by conservatives for being overly burdensome while bringing few benefits. But the EPA says the rule will be a boon to public health based on studies from whale blubber-subsisting populations in the Faroe Islands and pregnant women that subsist solely off fish.

The EPA, on the other hand, argues that such studies need to be kept secret to protect the confidentiality of patients. But Hartnett notes that EPA studies are largely based on hospital data that remove the names from patients being examined.

“The science needs to be really good because the impacts are really high,” Hartnett said.

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