All eyes on top Democrat to bring science back to science committee

All eyes on top Democrat to bring science back to science committee
© Greg Nash

Environmentalists are hoping that Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonPelosi should acknowledge realities with proposed climate change committee House Dems split on how to tackle climate change Dems to hold two days of hearings on climate MORE (D-Texas) will bring science back to the House science committee when she takes over as chair in the next Congress.

Johnson, if elected chair, will be the first woman with a degree in a STEM field to hold the position since 1990. She was the first registered nurse elected to Congress when she won her first term in 1993, and she’s served as ranking member on House Science, Space and Technology Committee since 2011.

The Democrat will represent a significant shift from the previous chairman, Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithTexas New Members 2019 Pro-environment Democrats gain influence in Congress and states, but lose key GOP allies Overnight Energy: Trump expects to weigh in on Zinke's future soon | EPA relaxes air permitting standard | House Science panel in for big changes | Update on midterm ballot measures MORE (R-Texas).

Smith introduced controversial bills including the Secret Science Reform Act and worked in tandem with the Trump administration to introduce heavily criticized policies on science transparency to the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department. 

Smith's legislation failed to make it past the House. Both the bill and the agency rules aimed to make it so scientific studies, of which's data was not made public, were banned from being used to draft new regulations. Scientists argued the idea would be extremely limiting to the number of scientific studies that could be used, since the data in most public health studies is confidential.

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“I think it will be quite dramatic,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said of the power shift.

“She wants to restore the focus of the science committee and the real culture of the committee is working in a bipartisan fashion. These things aren't inherently partisan unless someone like Lamar Smith makes them so.”

Johnson released a statement Tuesday night promising to restore “the credibility of the Science Committee as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.”

“I know that there is much that we can accomplish as Democrats and Republicans working together for the good of the nation,” Johnson said.

Johnson has previously focused on efforts to expand science education competitiveness.

 She’s introduced versions of the STEM Opportunities Act in the past four Congresses and helped pass the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act which pushes additional research for cybersecurity and cryptography.