Republican-Sponsored Bill Would Require EPA To Publicize Research Backing Regulations, Including Proposed Climate-Change Rules

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Natural Resources, Energy And Environment
Nearly 2 percent of revenue from income taxes is spent on various expenses related to the natural resources of the United States. About one-third of that money goes toward water and land management, with the remainder funding environmental protection initiatives, as well as management of the nation's energy assets and conservation efforts.

The U.S. House Environment Subcommittee will listen to testimony Tuesday on a new bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing or finalizing rules based on research that isn't made publicly available for others to analyze and reproduce its results.

The three-page bill, called the Secret Science Reform Act (H.R. 4012), was introduced on Thursday by Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), the environment subcommittee’s chairman, and cosponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Schweikert succeeded Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) as chairman last month and has been criticized by environmental groups for questioning whether humans are causing climate change.

"Public policy should come from public data, not based on the whims of far-left environmental groups,” Schweikert said in a statement. “For far too long, the EPA has approved regulations that have placed a crippling financial burden on economic growth in this country with no public evidence to justify their actions.”

Smith and other Republicans have been pushing the EPA to disclose research for two years.

“Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims,” Smith said in a statement announcing the new legislation. “The American people foot the bill for EPA’s costly regulations, and they have a right to see the underlying science. Costly environmental regulations should be based on publicly available data so that independent scientists can verify the EPA’s claims.”

Tuesday’s 10 a.m. EST hearing will welcome John Graham, dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, at Indiana University; Louis Anthony Cox Jr., chief sciences officer, of Next Health Technologies; Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health science, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Raymond Keating, chief economist, of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

The EPA’s administrator Gina McCarthy said that in September 2011, when she was assistant administrator, she would provide data sought by House Republicans, but the data remains undisclosed.

The EPA didn't respond to requests for comment on Monday.

The agency is proposing new standards for ozone that it estimates could cost up to $90 billion per year in compliance. Under the Clean Air Act, every five years the EPA must review and set standards, called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act prohibits the EPA from considering the costs when drafting regulations.

During the last review in 2008, the EPA limited the allowable amount of pollution-forming ozone in ground-level air to 75 parts per billion from 84 parts per billion, though the EPA’s scientific advisers suggested limiting ozone to 60 to 70 parts per billion.

In a draft policy evaluation released last week, the EPA said a standard between 60 and 70 parts per billion "could provide an appropriate degree of public health protection and would result in important improvements in protecting the health of at-risk populations and lifestages."

Last week, the agency also released a health risk and exposure assessment for ozone that said lowering the ozone standard would reduce child exposure, lower hospitalization and mortality rates and reduce the risk of lower lung function.

But the exact research models used by the EPA to link mortality, health problems and climate change to air pollutants aren't publicly available.

In two years, Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have sent at least six letters to the EPA and other officials demanding that the EPA disclose its research and filed Freedom of Information Act requests. Smith also subpoenaed the EPA in August. 

Ninety percent of Americans said that studies and data the federal government uses to make decisions should be made public, according to a 2013 poll by the Institute of Energy Research. At least two of President Obama’s scientific advisers, John Holdren and Deborah Swackhamer, have said in hearings that the government shouldn’t justify regulations with secret information. And the president’s executive order 13563, from January 2011, states general principles of regulation that include “public participation and an open exchange of ideas.”

“To the extent feasible and permitted by law,” the order states, “each agency shall also provide, for both proposed and final rules, timely online access to the rulemaking docket on regulations.gov, including relevant science and technical findings, in an open format that can be easily searched and downloaded.”

In late March, EPA scientists and policymakers are expected to release a proposal for a new ozone standard at a meeting of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

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