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Three Major Mistakes the House Science Committee Chairman Made in the Wall Street Journal

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Yesterday, the House Science Committee approved the Secret Science Reform Act on a party line vote.  The bill purports to provide full access to the scientific basis for EPA decision making, but in fact it is a sham call for government transparency when its effect is nothing of the kind. On the contrary, numerous open government groups, including UCS,  have raised concerns about the legislation.

House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith. (Photo: NASA)

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. (Photo: NASA)

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith upped the ante yesterday with an op-ed (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal about secret science and climate change. Here are the top three points from the op-ed that were off the mark (again):

  • Transparency is a good thing overall, and efforts to be clearer about the analysis relied upon by the government (including Congress!) in making policy must be vigorously pursued. But the “Secret Science Reform Act” is all about attacking and stymieing the EPA and other regulatory agencies, not transparency. A requirement for raw data makes little sense given concerns about intellectual property, patient and survey participant confidentiality, and industry’s desire to protect trade secrets. If the EPA can only make regulations when all of the data, models, analysis, and any other information is fully publicly available, but businesses have no obligation to make information publicly available, and public health information must be protected, then effectively, the Act is simply saying: EPA may not carry out its statutory mandate to protect public health and well-being.
  • Mr. Smith states flatly that the data EPA uses on the benefits of the recent EPA proposed rule on CO2 emissions from power plants are “secret”. That just isn’t so.  The National Climate Assessment,  which the EPA relied heavily upon, and which the Chairman has dismissed out of hand apparently without a reading, synthesizes what we know about the impacts in the US of ongoing global warming, including public health impacts. The Chairman refers to a Brookings Institution study to make the bizarre point that most of the benefits from reducing CO2 emissions will occur in other countries, as if therefore they are of no concern to the United States. Actually the study states that a disproportionate benefit will accrue to the US because of our large share of global GDP. And the enormous costs to the country of inaction have been analyzed as well.
  • Mr. Smith asserts that most of the research the EPA relies on is funded by the EPA and then reviewed by scientists also funded by the EPA. But again, that is simply untrue. There is a huge amount of research going on concerning climate change and relatively little is funded by the EPA, as the Chairman should know since it is reported to Congress. And the major reviews such as the National Climate Assessment were not EPA funded, nor were the National Academy of Sciences studies. Reviewers come from all across the country and indeed the world, and most are not primarily funded by EPA.

Apparently, the House Science Committee really does take guidance from Joseph Heller. As I suggested in a previous post, the legislation should be titled “Catch-22”, effectively preventing the agency from doing much at all to protect health and safety.

Regrettably, Chairman Smith and his colleagues have turned the committee into a highly partisan vehicle. From our recent analysis, in Chairman Smith’s world it is industry who is unbiased and “independent” and academics and government scientists who have some secret vested interest.

So perhaps Joseph Heller with a touch of Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass thrown in for good measure.

The House Science Committee needs to focus on strengthening the science enterprise of our country, not tying governmental agencies in knots when they try to do their important work.

 

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy Tags: , , , ,

About the author: Andrew Rosenberg is the director of the UCS Center for Science and Democracy. He leads UCS's efforts to advance the essential role that science, evidence-based decision making, and constructive debate play in American policy making. See Andrew's full bio.

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  • aqwassss

    A great mistake was placing Smith on the committee to start with. This greedy corporate puppet has already done massive damage to the sciences even before he was placed in this position.A bigoted and biased professional politician, who has done this country great ill.It has been a major set-back for us all. Nearly impossible to get these people out of office. Under Smith America has gone to a third world country status and is still declining..

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