Eddie Bernice Johnson: We Can’t Let Industry-friendly Politicians Cripple the EPA

Over the past 47 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been tremendously successful in carrying out their mission of "protecting human health and the environment." Because of the EPA's accomplishments, gone are the days when our polluted rivers would catch on fire and when a widening hole in the ozone layer played a factor in our hairspray and large appliance purchases. These triumphs should be recognized and credited to the regulations implemented by the agency, regulations that are supported by a foundation of cutting-edge, peer-reviewed scientific research.With the lack of attention to our planet's climate in this era of a Trump-centric news cycle, the administration, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, has been orchestrating a destructive agenda to dismantle the agency. In his most recent attempt to cripple the EPA, Administrator Pruitt announced his intent to implement a dangerous rule to stop drawing upon science that uses non-public data, research that opponents of the EPA call "secret science." This policy proposal has its roots in legislation pushed by my counterpart on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.This proposed rule would mandate that the EPA rely only on scientific studies that are reproducible from the data that is publically released. The push to allow EPA to only consider publicly available data in its rulemaking is an insidious plan designed from the outset to prevent the EPA from using the best available science to meet its obligations under the law. This proposed rule is constructed to hamstring the ability of the EPA to do just about anything to protect public health. Republicans weren't able to get their "secret science" bills signed into law, but now they have Administrator Pruitt to do the bidding of industry at the EPA. This rule isn't about scientific transparency. It's about undermining public health and the environment.The EPA frequently investigates and relies upon scientific studies that are inherently not reproducible. For instance, the EPA might study natural or man-made environmental disasters such at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to better understand the effects on the environment or to improve disaster response.This policy would also prevent the EPA from using peer-reviewed scientific studies that draw on confidential medical records that legally cannot be made public due to patient privacy policies. The EPA draws the science it uses from many sources including that conducted by its own Office of Research and Development at EPA laboratories, regional and field offices, as well as through various extramural grants, contracts and cooperative agreements with state and local governments, academic institutions, private companies, and non-profits. Since the EPA does not own or control the data for some of these scientific sources, the EPA would have no authority to order the public release of such data. This would also preclude the EPA from using highly relevant peer-reviewed science in existence today.Administrator Pruitt's proposed rule provides no guidance to the agency on how to navigate the resulting policy minefield, which will surely lead to a morass of lawsuits and legal challenges to the EPA. But it is not just a question of law, make no mistake. The actions taken by this administration to undercut scientific research at the EPA will have a lasting impact on the health of our nation.Over this past year, it has become clear that the EPA is being run in way that does not put the public first. The agency's institutional knowledge was developed over almost half a century by some of the best environmental scientists and engineers. Creating a vacuum of such knowledge will set back environmental protection efforts by years, if not by decades. New public health and environmental threats emerging today are more subtle and complex than ever and require continued attention and resources for ongoing research to prepare for the future.As Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it is my duty to hold this administration and agencies such as the EPA responsible for their actions, to protect the our federal scientific enterprise, and to ensure our continued global leadership in protecting the environment and public health, which will benefit Americans for generations to come.Eddie Bernice Johnson is a Democrat representing Dallas in the U.S. House and the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.What's your view?Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.  Continue reading...

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