The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has approved two bills that would modify aspects of how science is conducted at the EPA. Introduced by the two top Republicans on the Committee, the bills focus on the right of the public to know more about the science the EPA uses in making policy decisions and to contribute to that science through the public comment process.
H.R. 1430, the Honest Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 (HONEST Act), was introduced by Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX). The bill seeks to “prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.”
Specifically, the bill directs that the EPA administrator may not propose, finalize, or disseminate a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support that action is:
- The best available science;
- Specifically identified; and
- Publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results. Exceptions are made for any personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information obtained from a person and considered privileged or confidential. This information must be redacted before public availability.
The redacted information may be disclosed to a person only after such person signs a written confidentiality agreement with the EPA administrator, subject to guidance to be developed by the administrator.
“The days of ‘trust-me’ science are over,” said Smith. “If EPA regulations are based on legitimate science, then there is no reason to deny Americans access to the data. This bill restores confidence in the EPA rulemaking process. EPA will now be able to concentrate its limited resources on quality science that all researchers can examine.”
The bill would apply only to future actions and would not require retroactive action.
The EPA has long argued that the requirements contained in the HONEST Act would bar the Agency from relying on science that cannot be made public. For example, subjects may participate in a study on the condition that no findings be made public. Under the bill, the Agency would need to proceed as if those nondisclosed findings do not exist.
H.R. 1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017, was introduced by Committee Vice Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK). The Science Advisory Board (SAB) is EPA’s main source of internal reviews of the quality of scientific information and science-based decisions the Agency uses in the development of policy and regulations.
The major provision of the bill would require both the EPA administrator and the SAB to make public all reports and relevant scientific information and also provide materials to the public at the same time they are received by members of the SAB. Before conducting major advisory activities, the SAB would be required to hold public information-gathering sessions to discuss the state of the science related to those activities and also to accept, consider, and address public comments on questions about the activities.
“Unfortunately, limited public participation, EPA interference with expert advice, and conflicts of interest threaten to undermine the Board’s independence and credibility,” said Lucas. “This valuable bill allows for increased public participation in the EPA science review process and requires the SAB to be more responsive to the public and to Congress.”