An Attack on Science-Based Policy

Albert Einstein, a German-American scientist, known for his contributions to physics. Photo O.J. Turner

Albert Einstein, a German-American scientist, known for his contributions to physics. Photo O.J. Turner

The House of Representatives is debating two bills, EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (H.R. 1422) and Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012) today both promoted by the Republican members of the House (and House Science Committee).

Several of the co-sponsors of one or both of these bills are known skeptics of science-based policy. Some examples include:

  • Rep. Broun (R-GA) ”All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet recently. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” (Salon)
  • Rep. Barton (R-TX): “I would point out that if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.” (Buzzfeed)
  • Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI): “I personally believe that the solar flares are more responsible for climatic cycles than anything that human beings do and our lunar, our rovers on Mars have indicated that there has been a slight warming in the atmosphere of Mars and that certainly was not caused by the internal combustion engine. (Desmoblog)
  • Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA): He told constituents at a town hall that “global warming is a total fraud,” employed by liberals to “create global government.” (Huffington Post).

The first bill, H.R.1422, undermines objective, scientifically-based decisions at EPA. Specifically, as described by the House Minority Whip, the bill would:

(modify) the selection requirements and operating procedures of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under this bill, the EPA would be required to select members for the SAB that represent a “balanced” view of scientific issues, regardless of the legitimacy of those views – exposing the Board to potentially politically motivated beliefs not grounded in actual science. Additionally, the bill would allow up to 90% of SAB members to be private-sector scientists with direct ties to the industries – opening the door for corporations to hold powerful influence over its decisions and recommendations to the EPA.

The bill would also require a number of changes to the SAB’s operation. The Board would be required to release to the public all scientific information used in determining its advisories to EPA, indicating any and all “uncertainties” associated with the scientific advice it does provide, and it must ensure that the advice it provides to EPA reflect the views of all Board members.  It also would allow the public to file public comments on those advisories and require the Board to respond to all public comments – forcing the SAB to waste time and limited funds on burdensome administrative requirements instead of actually advising the EPA on science. These additional requirements that the bill demands of the SAB are essentially designed to keep it from getting anything accomplished, especially since the bill contains no additional resources for the board to function.

The White House has issued a SAP opposing HR. 1422 due to its corrosive impacts on science at a science-based agency.

The equally destructive HR.4012 would undermine efforts to implement scientifically-based policy in a timely manner. As described by Congress.gov, the bill would:

[A]mend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such action is specifically identified and publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results. Includes as a covered action a risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance.

With Republican’s controlling the House and Senate, we can unfortunately expect more attacks on science-based policies and the EPA and Fish & Wildlife Service in particular.  At the same time, EPA Administration McCarthy has pledge to continue with the Administrations agenda to protect and improve the environment despite GOP obstacles and push back (Washington Post).

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