Science under attack in the 114th Congress.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program MORE (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.

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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 well-being 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.