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John Walke’s Blog

#StopGovtAbuse

John Walke

Posted August 2, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Yesterday 20 over-zealous Republicans in the United States House of Representatives voted to subpoena health data from Harvard University that the Republicans already have, data from EPA that the Republicans already know EPA does not have, and patient data from the American Cancer Society that legitimate researchers already can obtain by vowing to keep it confidential.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans do not know it yet, but these Republicans just voted to allow disclosure of their most confidential medical data and personal identities without requiring protection of this sensitive information.

This is all in service of a desperate political campaign against long-established science showing a clear causal association between fine soot pollution (PM2.5) and premature death. The politicians' ultimate agenda is to attack clean air health safeguards projected to save tens of thousands of lives and avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and heart attacks annually. Republican members yesterday cast these legally-required health safeguards as part of a "war on coal" that is a bogus (and failed) political fiction of the Republicans' own creation.

It was appropriate, therefore, if unintentionally apt, that the Republicans' messaging strategy on social media this week was the Twitter hash tag #StopGovtAbuse.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) adopted this hash tag on Twitter to describe a Republican legislative agenda pulled from the conservative-libertarian playbook to target longstanding and popular safeguards for Americans' health, consumers, workers, investors and the environment.  

But the #StopGovtAbuse characterization is better suited to House Republicans' own actions this week, including the embarrassing spectacle of the abusive subpoena.

The Republican resolution authorizing the sweeping subpoenas targets:

(1) "any and all research data, information, documents and other records";

(2) "which may be de-identified" (emphasis added);

(3) relating to 2 soot pollution health studies—the "Harvard Six Cities Study" and the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II;

(4) "and all analyses and re-analyses of either study";

(5) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other custodians of research data from such studies.

Democrats asked to amend the subpoena above at (2) to change "may " to "shall," thereby requiring that confidential patient identities and medical information be protected ("de-identified").

Republicans refused.

Democrats asked that the two custodians of the data, Harvard and the American Cancer Society, be identified by name and the subpoenas limited to them and EPA. The Democrats wanted the extremely sweeping language in the subpoena limited to the entities that Republicans claimed to care about.

Republicans refused.

Democrats asked that the subpoena not encompass the far larger numbers of scientists and universities worldwide that have analyzed or re-analyzed the Harvard and American Cancer Society studies exhaustively in the 20 years since they were released.

Republicans refused.

Democrats asked the Republican majority to acknowledge that it already had the "de-identified" Harvard study data—it was sitting on the desk in front of Chairman Lama Smith (R-TX) at the hearing (see photo)—and to limit the subpoena to the data in the possession of the American Cancer Society, data that EPA does not have.

Republicans refused.

Chairman Smith at subpoena meeting.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Democractic committee members strongly protested the abusive Republican subpoena and voted against the resolution unanimously. Democrats offered compelling, at times exasperated, arguments on behalf of Harvard, the American Cancer Society, EPA and the hundreds of thousands of Americans, all to no avail.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) said “We are all dealing with two private entities who have made privacy commitments to patients who have undertaken the studies. We have not dealt at all with the legal liability of those two entities should information that is private be released to the public, whether the public be this Committee or its staff, or the general public."

Republicans were unmoved.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) raised solemn and reasoned arguments that the subpoena was overbroad and violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Republicans did not even bother responding to the merits of this argument.

So we were left with a comedy of errancy in which Republicans evidently believe that in the face of dozens of health research studies, analyses and re-analyses dating back 20 years; the informed expertise of hundreds of scientists and researchers worldwide; the confirming data of the Harvard study already in their possession; the backing of EPA's Science Advisory Board and Clean Air Science Advisory Committee; and the unimpeached science behind 20 years worth of health standards upheld in the courts -- these politicians appear to believe that the established soot-mortality link will be nullified by disclosing the data from a single, twenty year-old study by the American Cancer Society.

This is preposterous. It's desperation.

And we could safely ignore it were it a matter of simple political flailing.

But when its tactics are so abusive that it must resort to sweeping supboenas backed by contempt; when it shows cavalier disregard for the most personal medical information of Americans; when its real target is health safeguards that will save the lives of thousands and improve the lives of hundreds of millions—then the desperate political tantrums are worth calling out and condemning.

So let us call out the 20 members of Congress that committed these abuses:

Mr. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair (subpoena resolution sponsor)

Mr. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Vice Chair

Mr. Ralph Hall (R-TX)

Mr. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)

Mr. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX)

Mr. Paul Broun (R-GA)

Mr. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

Mr. Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Mr. Randy Hultgren (R-IL)

Mr. Larry Bucshon (R-IN)

Mr. Steve Stockman (R-TX)

Mr. Bill Posey (R-FL)

Mrs. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Mr. David Schweikert (R-AZ)

Mr. Thomas Massie (R-KY)

Mr. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

Mr. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK)

Mr. Randy Weber (R-TX)

Mr. Chris Stewart (R-UT)

Mr. Chris Collins (R-NY)

Republican lawmakers and their industry allies have not been remotely successful in denying the health hazards of soot pollution, countering the broad body of supportive science or dismissing the tremendous health benefits from cleaning up soot. Industry lawsuits have failed repeatedly in court. Republican legislative attacks have failed in Congress.

So now they have been reduced to political side shows, manufactured controversies propelled by their own willingness to abuse power and seek publicity from that abuse; resistance to confirming EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; and anti-science opposition to health safeguards.

Shame on these 20 House Republicans and their abuse of power. Shame on their anti-science campaign seeking to deny Americans the health benefits of cleaner air.

This is the government abuse that needs to stop.

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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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