Republicans Enacting Anti-Science Agenda at NASA, EPA

April 25, 2018

To understand what Republicans are trying to do to the Crown Jewels of US technological leadership, it helps to understand Lamar Smith, Chair of the House “Science” Committee.

The Intercept:

MUCH OF THE COUNTRY has been watching in horror as Donald Trump has made good on his promises to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency — delaying 30 regulations, severely limiting the information staffers can release, and installing Scott Pruitt as the agency’s administrator to destroy the agency from within. But even those keeping their eyes on the EPA may have missed a quieter attack on environmental protections now being launched in Congress.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is expected to hold a hearing on a bill to undermine health regulations that is based on a strategy cooked up by tobacco industry strategists more than two decades ago. At what Republicans on the committee have dubbed the “Making EPA Great Again” hearing, lawmakers are likely to discuss the Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would limit the EPA to using only data that can be replicated or made available for “independent analysis.”

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The proposal may sound reasonable enough at first. But because health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share, the bill would prevent the EPA from using many of the best scientific studies. It would also prohibit using studies of one-time events, such as the Gulf oil spill or the effect of a partial ban of chlorpyrifos on children, which fueled the EPA’s decision to eliminate all agricultural uses of the pesticide, because these events — and thus the studies of them — can’t be repeated. Although it is nominally about transparency, the bill leaves intact protections that allow industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome.

The top-billed witness scheduled to provide testimony at the House hearing on Tuesday is a lawyer named Jeffrey Holmstead, who has has worked to block the EPA’s efforts to limit mercury pollution while representing coal companies including Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and Southern Company. Meanwhile, Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican chair of the House Science Committee who has been zealously promoting the“secret science” bill, is also in the pocket of the energy companies. Though he’s also received funding from Koch Industries and iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications), Smith’s biggest contributors are oil and gas companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Also testifying on Tuesday will be Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry trade group.

This bald industry bid to subvert public health-based regulations that can cut into profit isn’t new. What’s new is that this upside-down environmental attack, in which those who benefit directly from polluting industries are policing the independent scientists who can show the harms of their products, could now succeed. Although the House passed the secret science bill in 2014 and 2015, it never made it to the Senate floor. After it passed the House in 2015, Barbara Boxer called the bill “insane,” Bernie Sanders called it “laughable,” and President Obama promised to veto it. This time, it’s not a joke. With a Republican majority in both houses and Trump in the White House, the secret science act could easily become law.

The small group of lawyers and PR strategists orchestrating the secret science effort are closely tied to those attacking the EPA from within. All have connections to either big tobacco, oil, or both — and almost all have been affiliated with a small, right-wing group called the Energy & Environment Legal Institute. It’s interesting that E&E should fixate on transparency since the group has gone to great lengths to conceal its donors. Nevertheless, public records document some of the group’s ties to big coal companies, including the now bankrupt Alpha Natural ResourcesPeabody Coal, and Arch Coal.

E&E senior policy fellow Steve Milloy, a former tobacco industry attorney, has perhaps written the most — at least publicly — about the secret science strategy, both in an ebook and for Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News. Milloy calls Myron Ebell, who oversaw Trump’s EPA transition team, his “friend and hero.” In the late 1990s, Milloy and Ebell were both members of the American Petroleum Institute’s Global Climate Science Communications Team, which laid out the oil industry’s strategy to undermine the science of global warming. Meanwhile, three of Milloy’s colleagues from E&E are also members of the EPA landing team. Among them are David Schnare, E&E’s general counsel, who is perhaps best known for harassing Michael Mann and other environmental scientists with FOIA requests, and Amy Oliver Cooke, an energy industry think tanker who created MILF, Mothers In Love with Fracking.

Two other E&E associates have been wrapped up in the secret science strategy for years. The first is Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at both E&E and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is also a member of Trump’s EPA landing team. Back in the 1990s, Horner worked for Bracewell LLP, the law firm (formerly known as Bracewell & Giuliani) supplying the top witness at Tuesday’s hearing. The dawning awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke was putting tobacco companies on the defensive, including Horner’s client, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. In a 1996 memo, which seems to be the earliest known reference to the secret science strategy, Horner laid out a plan to fight back.

“We propose creating, beginning with congressional oversight and a goal of enacting legislation, required review procedures which EPA and other federal agencies must follow,” Horner wrote in his memo. “This is important to your organization because, at some point in the near future, EPA will most likely be ordered to re-examine ETS [environmental tobacco smoke].” Horner’s plan? “To construct explicit procedural hurdles the agency must follow in issuing scientific reports. Because there is virtually no chance of affecting change on this issue if the focus is ETS.”

Horner already saw that the secret science approach could subvert far more than the imminent regulations based on the science about second-hand smoke. “Our approach is one of addressing process as opposed to scientific substance, and global applicability to industry rather than focusing on any single industrial sector,” he wrote, going on to explain how the strategy could be used to interfere with the EPA’s efforts to address mercury emissions, hazardous waste, and dioxins as well as restrictions on air pollution.

 

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7 Responses to “Republicans Enacting Anti-Science Agenda at NASA, EPA”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    The new season of Earth Focus will travel to far-flung parts of the globe as well as cities in the U.S. to explore how community planning is evolving in the wake of heightened environmental challenges brought on by climate change and increasing urbanization.

    Season premiere on April 26 at 9 p.m. on DirecTV 375 and DISH Network 9410 or stream it from linktv.org/earthfocus, Roku, Apple TV channels or on Amazon Video.


  2. Ignorance is strength!

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Professor Myles Allen writes about his latest assignment – to explain the history and science of climate change to a judge in a San Francisco court – in a case brought by American cities against the oil companies.

    => Climate change in a San Francisco courtroom

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    Images from Landsat satellites and agricultural-survey programme are freely available to scientists — but for how long?

    => US government considers charging for popular Earth-observing data

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    Somehow, Chucky missed this one.

  6. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Step 1: Birth control for anyone that wants it.


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