House votes to restrict EPA’s use of science

The House voted Wednesday to restrict the kind of scientific studies and data that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use to justify new regulations.

The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act, or HONEST Act, passed 228-194. It would prohibit the EPA from writing any regulation that uses science that is not publicly available.

It’s the latest push by House Republicans to clamp down on what they say has turned into an out-of-control administrative state that enforces expensive, unworkable regulations that are not scientifically sound.

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Even with President Trump in the White House, the GOP feels it’s important to make lasting changes to how regulations are written and justified.

The House earlier this year passed a pair of bills to rein in regulations across government — the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act.

But Democrats, environmentalists and health advocates say the HONEST Act is intended to handcuff the EPA. They say it would irresponsibly leave the EPA unable to write important regulatory protections, since the agency might not have the ability to release some parts of the scientific data underpinning them.

The HONEST Act is similar to the Secret Science Act, which leaders in the House Science Committee sponsored in previous congresses and got passed.

“This legislation ensures that sound science is the basis for EPA decisions and regulatory actions,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science Committee, said on the House floor Wednesday.

“The days of ‘trust-me’ science are over. In our modern information age, federal regulations should be based only on data that is available for every American to see and that can be subjected to independent review,” he said. “That’s called the scientific method.”

Smith framed his bill as an extension of the highly-regarded quest to use the best science to inform regulators.

He said the EPA — particularly under former President Obama — often hid the data it used in regulations, preventing the public and peer scrutiny that helps ensure the science is the best available.

“We all care about the environment,” he said. “But if policies are not based on legitimate science, regulations will result in economic hardship with little or no environmental benefit. In other words, the regulations would be all pain and no gain.”

The bill would also require that any scientific studies be replicable, and allow anyone who signs a confidentiality agreement to view redacted personal or trade information in data.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the Science Committee’s top Democrat, slammed her GOP colleagues for what she called a “misguided” effort to stop sensible EPA regulations.

She denied that the EPA is overly secretive with its science, saying it often doesn’t own the information and has no right to release it.

“The secret science bills the Republicans tried to enact over the previous two congresses were insidious bills, designed from the outset to prevent EPA from using the best available science to meet its obligations under the law. Those bills were constructed to hamstring the ability of EPA to do about anything to protect the American public,” she said.

The latest iteration adds the redactions and the ability to view redacted information, which Johnson called “a Pandora’s Box, which could have untold consequences for the EPA, industry and the general public,” including restricting the EPA’s ability to gather information.

“In reality, this bill isn’t about science. It’s about undermining public health and the environment,” she said.

Republicans on the Science Committee passed the bill earlier this month, alongside another bill to reform the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee. The advisory panel would be required to have geographic diversity and representatives from certain stakeholder groups.

The full House is likely to consider that bill soon.