A Senate committee has advanced legislation that would change how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science to craft regulations intended to protect the environment and public health, the Hill reported Tuesday.
On party line votes, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11–9 to approve the “Secret Science Reform Act,” a bill to prohibit the EPA from using science that includes private data, or data that can’t be easily reproduced. The bill has been pushed strongly by House Republicans for the last two years, but this is the first time it has been advanced by the Senate. It is sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY).
The purpose of the Secret Science bill, according to its House sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is to stop “hidden and flawed” science from being the basis of EPA regulations. However, many scientific organizations have disagreed with this characterization.
For example, approximately 50 scientific societies and universities said the bill would prohibit the EPA from using many large-scale public health studies, because their data “could not realistically be reproduced.” In addition, many studies use private medical data, trade secrets, and industry data that cannot legally be made public.
“The legislation may sound reasonable, but it’s actually a cynical attack on the EPA’s ability to do its job,” said Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement. “This bill would make it impossible for the EPA to use many health studies, since they often contain private patient information that can’t and shouldn’t be revealed.”
Republicans in support of the bill have countered that the EPA could still use data within the studies without disclosing personal information or trade secrets. But it wouldn’t be cheap for those studies to meet the bill’s requirements, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO reported last year that the EPA relies on approximately 50,000 scientific studies to craft its regulations per year, and that meeting the goals of the “Secret Science” bill would cost between $10,000 and $30,000 per study.
When the legislation was moving through the House, Democratic opponents called it disingenuous — a perceived play for “transparency” within the EPA, when all Republicans really want is less EPA regulation. Environmentally-minded Senators on Tuesday seemed to agree. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told the Hill that the bill was “just a joke,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — who is expected to announce a Presidential bid on Thursday — reportedly called it “laughable.”
For its part, the White House has already threatened to veto the bill if it does come to President Obama’s desk. Obama made the same threat last year when the House passed a similar bill, but the legislation did not reach the then-Democrat controlled Senate.
Now, a notoriously anti-EPA Republican leading the Senate makes it all the more likely that Obama will have to use his veto pen on the Secret Science Reform Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”