President Obama is inking up his ‘veto’ stamp and practicing his WTF face this week. Some of that was for the utterly useless Keystone XL bill, of course, but he’s also staying in veto-ready shape for the three EPA bills currently making their way through the House. One has passed the House already, HR 4012, also known as the “Secret Science” bill.
What it does: Prevents the EPA from taking any action without making “all” of the scientific and technical data it uses to justify its activities publicly available online. They would also be required to provide enough information for people to be able to conduct an independent review of the data. However, the bill says that shouldn’t be construed as requiring them to disclose confidential information that’s currently illegal to disclose.
What’s the point? Presumably, to make the EPA be “transparent” about how it scientifically justifies its assessments and regulations.
What’s behind this? Here’s the real story: Over the past few years, the EPA has set more stringent penalties for certain kinds of air pollution. They used two landmark studies, among others, that link air pollution to lung cancer to justify the regulations. The House Science Committee, under Lamar Smith, was unhappy about the new regulations, in part, I suspect, because, as ruled by the Supreme Court, greenhouse gases now count as air pollution. That means fossil fuel emissions can be regulated by the EPA in terms of public health.
So, Smith wanted to see the data on those two studies that justified the new regulations, and subpoenaed the EPA for it. The problem is, the EPA didn’t do those studies. They were conducted by independent researchers at Harvard and the American Cancer Society. So the researchers have the data, not the EPA. The studies involve confidential patient information, which is illegal to disclose. The studies, however, are published and peer-reviewed, and the patient data kept anonymous. Like the law says. But Smith threw a fit because he couldn’t have ALL the data, regardless of who had the authority to give it to whom. He blamed the EPA and got this bill started.
Why this bill sucks: Look, the EPA is using peer-reviewed studies. It’s not like this stuff was being done in secret to begin with. So, calling something “secret” makes it sound like it’s secret when it’s not secret. What’s that called again?
Even if this bill had been in effect when Smith subpoenaed the EPA, they still couldn’t have given him the information–the bill specifically doesn’t require disclosure of information that’s currently illegal to disclose. So this bill is useless. It’s worse than useless, because it would make the EPA responsible for requesting, compiling, reading, and curating all data associated with every peer-reviewed study it reads. That would not only add an enormous amount of time and financial burden to all regulatory activity, it would make the EPA, effectively, another layer of peer-review to already peer-reviewed studies. Further, it would force scientists to comply–not only a bureaucratic nightmare, but yet another show of distrust in scientists.