Investigative theater drowns out science, public health

Investigative theater drowns out science, public health

When Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyLiberal group files lobbying complaint against Pruitt Trump’s budget prioritizes polluters over people Trump pulls US out of Paris deal: What it would mean MORE, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology earlier this month, it should have been a great opportunity to talk about policies that can help protect Americans’ health and safety and reduce the risk of climate change.

Instead, it was investigative theater.

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Unfortunately, in our view, the hearing was billed as an examination of the EPA’s “regulatory overreach.” We would ask, “Overreaching for what?” Public health and safety protections? Protecting our environment and our communities? The EPA is a critical agency for our government in striving for these protections. That’s why it was created, to implement and enforce our environmental laws — laws that are broadly supported by the American public and have a history of strong, bipartisan support in Congress.

Those laws were put in place because it is the job of government to protect public health and safety. Most industries are not in the public health business. Left unchecked, powerful interests like the oil industry and the chemical industry could endanger vulnerable people and communities. To balance those interests, the government takes on the job of putting the best science to work on behalf of the American public. Does that result in costs to businesses? Yes, if the actions of businesses pose risks to public health, safety and the environment. Then the law, and common sense, requires that businesses take responsibility for reducing those risks. Are there real benefits to the public? Absolutely. And they are measured in lives saved, hazards avoided, better health outcomes and a better and more prosperous economy overall.

It is very hard for those attacking the EPA to argue that clean air or clean water is not what the American people want. So instead, some representatives, at the behest of industry, are attacking the regulatory process, and particularly the science underpinning regulatory decisionmaking. With bills such as the Secret Science Reform Act, and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, they are trying to tip the scales even further for industry. But who is on the other side of that scale? The public.

At the hearing on July 9, we heard the predictable attacks about overreach and power grabs, but all too little about the families who want their kids to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and stay safe from chemical hazards in their neighborhoods.

The hearing could have been a productive one where we talked about what the EPA is doing to protect our communities from pollution, chemical accidents and the growing threat of climate change. Instead, we got theater, and that was a lost opportunity. 

Johnson has represented Texas’s 30th Congressional District since 1993. She sits on the Science, Space, and Technology and the Transportation committees. Rosenberg is the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.