Senators Target EPA’s Use Of ‘Secret Science’ To Justify Regs
Republican lawmakers may finally be able to hold the EPA’s feet to the fire when it comes to the “secret science” the agency uses to justify increasing its regulatory reach over the American economy.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would only allow the EPA to use scientific studies that are publicly available online in their rulemaking. The “secret science” legislation will need to pass out of the Senate amid Democratic resistance, and the White House has threatened to veto the bill if it passes.
“EPA has a long history of relying on science that was not created by the agency itself. This often means that the science is not available to the public, and therefore cannot be reproduced and verified,” Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso said during an EPW committee hearing.
“What this bill is trying to accomplish is to make sure that we strengthen the scientific information the EPA uses to make regulations, guidance and assessments,” said Barrasso, who sponsored the bill.
The House has already passed the bill. Indeed, House Republicans have been criticizing the EPA for using non-public data to push its regulatory agenda. Senate Republicans also made the agency’s use of “secret science” a major issue during EPA chief Gina McCarthy’s nomination hearings in 2013.
“Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by non-transparent data and unverifiable claims,” said Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, one of the House science bill’s cosponsors.
“The American people foot the bill for EPA’s costly regulations, and they have a right to see the underlying science,” Smith said. “Costly environmental regulations should be based on publicly available data so that independent scientists can verify the EPA’s claims.”
The EPA has used this secretive data to justify at least 85 percent of the nearly $2 trillion worth of Clean Air Act (CAA) benefits between 1990 and 2020. That same science allows EPA to claim that the benefits of CAA regulations exceed the costs by a 30-to-1 ratio.
For example, the EPA released a costly rule regulating soot at the end of 2012, which ostensibly has $4 billion to $9 billion in health benefits per year and an annual cost of only $53 million to $350 million. That rule relied on non-public EPA data regarding the health impacts of fine particulate matter.
But the EPA said it keeps such data secret to protect the confidential personal information of people involved in the nonpublic studies. Administrator McCarthy even went so far as to argue that Republicans really only care about “challenging the credibility of world renowned scientists and institutions like Harvard University and the American Cancer Society.”
“It’s about claiming that research is secret if researchers protect confidential personal health data from those who are not qualified to analyze it — and won’t agree to protect it,” she told the National Academy of Sciences. “If EPA is being accused of secret science because we rely on real scientists to conduct research, and independent scientists to peer review it, and scientists who’ve spent a lifetime studying the science to reproduce it — then so be it.”
Democratic lawmakers have echoed such arguments. California Sen. Barbara Boxer said during Tuesday’s hearing that the science bill would “ hinder scientific research by forcing the EPA to release confidential personal information about study participants.”
It “would impose arbitrary, unnecessary, and expensive requirements on the scientific information that EPA relies on to protect human health and the environment,” Boxer said.
But it’s not clear why confidential patient data would be released if the EPA had to make its research publicly available. There are lots of public health studies that do not disclose the personal information of patients.
“The American people deserve access to the same information being used to develop these policies,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, EPW’s chairman, said in a statement on the science bill’s passage. “The underlying science must be scientifically sound and unbiased.”
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