Having Solved Health Care, GOP Moves on to Environment, Climate Change..
March 27, 2017
The Whores on Science.
The good news, we can expect Republicans to bring the same calm, sober expertise to climate action that they brought to the Health care debate.
The bad news, ditto.
Above, Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith has for years spelled out his action agenda to gut science, and target climate scientists. Now there is little to stop him other than citizen action like that which influenced the Health Care debate.
Your action item for today, call your Reps and urge them to turn down HRs 1430, and 1431, described below.
As many conservatives see it, environmental science is an enabler of dreaded government regulation. When enough studies show that there is no safe level of lead in water, then we have to regulate lead pollution. When scientists agree that mercury pollution can effect developmental health, then we have to regulate mercury. And when scientists agree that excessive carbon emissions threaten public health and welfare—well, you get the point.
An obvious solution, for those seeking to avoid such regulation, would be to prevent that science from seeing the light of day. That’s exactly what Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman from Texas, is trying to do. On Thursday, the House Science Committee passed two of Smith’s bills: The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. Combined, they would significantly change how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science to create rules that protect human health.
The HONEST Act is essentially a re-brand of Smith’s notorious Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would have required the EPA to only use scientific studies for which all data is publicly available and the results are easily reproducible. The SAB Reform Act would change the makeup of the board that reviews the “quality and relevance” of the science that EPA uses: Scientists who receive EPA grants would be forbidden from serving, while allowing the appointment of industry-sponsored experts who have a direct interest in being regulated—so long as they disclose that interest.
Burke and others said the HONEST Act would delay or stymie the approval of scientific data at EPA because it requires that the disclosure of private data and that study results be “reproducible,” meaning an outside source must be able to replicate the entire study on their own and get the same results. Scientists say that’s just not possible for many public health studies. Consider a 10-year study of lead exposure in pregnant women and children: How would scientists swiftly replicate the results? Or a study on the BP oil spill’s impact on public health in coastal Gulf communities: How can one reproduce that event?
“It’s really hard to reproduce long term studies because variables change, people grow up,” said Yogin Kothari, a scientific integrity advocate at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If they can’t use these studies, the EPA’s policy decisions won’t be based on the best available science.”
For example, if the bill requires the EPA only use studies that can be identically reproduced, that would impose an unreasonable demand on scientists, according to Rush Holt, who testified at the hearing as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Many studies cannot be repeated in exactly the same way—the populations have changed, those people [in the studies] have grown up or moved away or the forest you’re studying has been overtaken by an invasive [species],” Holt explained. “The Secret Science Act has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works—the gold standard is to find other approaches to come up with the same conclusions. Rarely can you repeat an experiment in exactly the same way.”
Critics also worry the legislation could keep the EPA from using important multiyear studies—say, for example, a 10-year study examining air pollution’s effect on human health—in the agency’s rule-making process. Those critical long-term studies are extremely difficult to replicate because they require so much time and money. Because of this, they may not fall under the definition of “reproducible.” Although the bill’s supporters might argue long-term studies would not be excluded, the law’s language would likely leave the term “reproducibility” open to interpretation. For instance, someone could potentially sue the EPA for using one of those long-term studies in its rule-making, leaving it to the courts to determine the definition of “reproducibility.”
All of this means the bill could limit the number of studies the EPA might consider, if either the courts decide a study is not “reproducible” or if the EPA refrains from using a multiyear study because it believes the research will not meet the bill’s “reproducibility” demand. In other words, the agency may not be able use the best available science to make its rules. “I think [the Secret Science bill] is fundamentally substituting a politically originated revision of the process for the scientific process,” Holt said in the hearing.
Here, Rep. Smith demonstrates his grip on reality by declaring President Trump the “only source or unvarnished truth”, (1:10 if you’re rushed).
The Secret Science Reform Act would also require the EPA use only studies for which data is publicly available online—or the agency makes publicly available—in the name of transparency. But critics of this approach note that scientific studies often include private data, including individual health information, or industry records that cannot be made public for competitive, ethical or legal reasons. During the hearing the representative from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group, asked that confidential commercial data be protected in the bill. “That was another great illustration that the bill is not about transparency—it’s about what is politically expedient to move industry’s agenda forward,” says Yogin Kothari, a representative with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As for medical data, supporters of the bill say names and other private information could be scrubbed—but that would likely be expensive and time-intensive, and thus another factor limiting the number of studies the EPA could use to make its environmental protection rules. “You don’t need access to the raw data to figure out what information the EPA is relying on,” Kothari wrote in an e-mail. “The idea of secret science is based on a false premise.”
In addition, on Tuesday, the President will sign an executive order designed to blow up any remaining climate change initiatives from previous administrations.
1. Instructions to EPA to rewrite regulations restricting carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants. These rules — particularly the one affecting existing plants, many of which are coal-fired — lie at the center of Obama’s effort to curb the nation’s carbon output. The limits on existing facilities aim to cut carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and the rule is subject to a pending lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The order would instruct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask the D.C. Circuit to hold the lawsuit in abeyance while EPA revises the rules, a process that will take more than a year and will inevitably face a court challenge of its own.
2. Lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing. Trump will direct the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to lift the freeze on coal leasing on its land, which has been in effect since December 2015. In January, Interior proposed that the program guiding coal exploration and production across 570 million publicly owned acres be updated to factor in the climate effect of such activities and provide a bigger return for U.S. taxpayers. This will not have a major impact on domestic coal production, since the government has sold one set of coal leases since October 2012, and has estimated that it has already granted leases that are equivalent to a 20-year supply of coal. But Pruitt told ABC that this and other policies in the order constitute “a promise to the American people — saying we can put people back to work and be pro-environment as well.”
3. Abolish federal guidance instructing agencies to incorporate climate change into federal decision-making. Obama ordered agencies to include climate change as a consideration when they conducted reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, a sweeping law that informed any federal decision that had a significant environmental impact. This will be eliminated outright.
4. Jettison the Obama administration’s “social cost of carbon.” The order would dissolve the task force that calculated what has become known as “the social cost of carbon” and revert to the 2003 standard used under the George W. Bush administration. The current calculus, which is set at $36 per ton of carbon dioxide, aims to capture the negative consequences of allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise and is applied to any regulations that have a climate impact.
5. Promote oil and gas development on Interior’s lands, including national wildlife refuges. The order would make it easier to flare methane on oil and gas operations on federal land. In November the previous administration issued a rule curbing such “fugitive” emissions of the potent greenhouse gas, which the House has voted to overturn. The order would also make it easier to conduct energy exploration on land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
WHAT’S NOT IN IT:
Language on the Paris climate agreement. The president’s top advisers have been divided over whether America should formally withdraw from the 2015 global warming pact that Obama and his deputies helped broker through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under that accord, which has already entered into force, the United States voluntarily committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025, while making “best efforts” to reduce those emissions by 28 percent. In his Sunday interview, Pruitt suggested that whether the United States opts out or remains in the agreement is unrelated to Tuesday’s executive action. “The Paris accord is nonbinding. It was not a treaty, as such. The Clean Power Plan is not tethered to the Paris accords,” he said. “This is an effort to undo the unlawful approach the previous administration engaged in and do it right going forward with the mind set of being pro-growth and pro-environment.”