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John Walke’s Blog

GOP Bill Attacks EPA Science, Health Standards, With Unapologetic Double Standard For Industry

John Walke

Posted February 11, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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The Environment Subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing this morning to consider a bill by the Republican majority entitled the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014."

I submitted this letter on behalf of NRDC strongly opposing the legislation and its reckless attacks on EPA's authority and responsibility to protect public health, safety and the environment.

The legislation would effectively amend numerous environmental statutes, and it marks a radical departure from longstanding practices. Its end result would be to make it much more difficult to protect the public by forcing EPA to ignore key scientific studies, including those submitted by industry.

The bill proceeds from a faulty premise from which it then undermines EPA’s ability to carry out its most basic responsibilities. The notion of “secret science” is a canard and ignores longstanding practices, recognized in law, that protect patient information, intellectual propertyand industrial secrets. My letter inventories some of the key ways such information is used, and needs to be used by EPA. The Committee's Republican majority has done nothing to demonstrate how the public has suffered as a result of alleged EPA misdeeds before the House of Representatives seeks to overthrow law and practice. But it is easy to show how the public would suffer if the bill’s proscriptions and restrictions were put into effect.

The legislation contains a fundamental double standard biased in favor of corporations and against public health and safety. The bill (1) restricts the information EPA can use to take a series of actions to protect public health and the environment, while it (2) simultaneously leaves untouched a host of actions that industry needs and desires—notwithstanding that these industry-favored actions often rely on industry-supplied scientific and technical information that industry may shield from the public.

My letter elaborates on these points:

  • The whole notion of “secret science,” based on studies of fine soot pollution conducted almost two decades ago, is unfounded.
  • The bill would make it impossible for EPA to use many kinds of studies that it necessarily relies on to protect the public because those studies use data that has long been understood to be legitimately confidential.
  • The bill would make it impossible for EPA to use many kinds of economic models it routinely relies on because those models are proprietary.
  • The bill advantages industry by exempting from its coverage EPA activities where industry is the primary party likely to submit confidential information, such as permitting.

Nonetheless, the bill would make it harder for EPA to consider confidential information from industry in many instances.

The legislation would effectively amend numerous environmental statutes in a manner that would obstruct the development and implementation of health and environmental safeguards. It would do so in a fashion that would also restrict industry’s ability to inform EPA decision-making, potentially raising the costs of regulation. At the same time, the bill unfairly caters to industry by exempting permitting and other agency actions from its ambit and underscoring the confidential business information protections in existing law.

The Science Committee ought to abandon its misguided project of chasing the phantom notion of “secret science.” With this bill, the Committee has moved from reviving baseless charges about clean air science that were disproved over a decade ago to damaging EPA’s ability to use science for decades ahead. Surely there are more productive ways to spend its time.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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