Energy & Environment

House coronavirus stimulus bill to include effort to limit political influence over science

Greg Nash
Organizers conduct a photo op with the March for Science banner in front of the Capitol. 

A package of amendments set to be included in House Democrats’ coronavirus stimulus bill includes a measure that would block the Trump White House and future administrations from distorting or shelving scientific studies for political reasons.

The measure was first introduced in 2017, when the early days of the Trump administration had some scientists saying their work on climate change was being stalled by political appointees.

And scientists say recent actions from the White House show the measures are still needed.

“I think everyone particularly in the time of a pandemic can see how important it is to hear from the scientific experts directly, without political filters,” said Andrew Rosenberg with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has backed the concept.

The Scientific Integrity Act requires agencies to draft policies that prevent misrepresenting or suppressing scientific research their employees produce. Government scientists would also be able to petition their agency’s Scientific Integrity Officer if they felt their work was being improperly concealed from the public. The bill has been included in the manager’s amendment to the Heroes Act set to be considered Friday.

Rosenberg pointed to what became known as Sharpiegate and the limited public response from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the face of the coronavirus as recent examples of politics influencing science. A draft copy of the CDC’s recommendations for reopening the economy are stricter than what the White House has recommended.

“The principles are that scientists have the right to speak out about their science and political officials can’t stop them from doing so,” he said.

The $3 trillion Heroes package will likely pass the House along largely party lines on Friday but is all but certain to fail in the GOP-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have declared it “dead on arrival.”

But if the scientific integrity portion was passed with the rest of the bill, it could have ramifications for a number of Trump administration regulatory efforts.

“President Trump’s multi-agency assault on environmental standards has hinged on efforts to distort, bury and even rewrite credible public scientific findings, including his absurd denial of the growing climate crisis and efforts to cover up evidence that the American people are being exposed to dangerous toxins,” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the main sponsor of the legislation, said when introducing the bill late last year.

“Protecting the integrity of that science is one of the most important ways we can hold this President and his administration accountable,” he added.

At a June hearing on Tonko’s bill, Republicans said instances of interference with science are not limited to the Trump administration.

“In listening to some of our panelists today you would think that the Trump administration was the only one where there have been issues regarding scientific integrity, and that certainly is not the case,” said Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.).

Tags Donald Trump Jody Hice Paul Tonko

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