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EPA May Have Its Powers Curtailed if Lawmakers Have Their Way

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is expected to meet tomorrow to discuss health regulations pertaining to the tobacco industry. According to the Intercept, lawmakers will discuss whether to limit the data to be collected by the Environmental Protection Agency that can be made available for “independent analysis.”

According to the investigative report, the measure — the Secret Science Reform Act — to be taken up would prevent the EPA from using some highly regarded scientific studies or those analyses that stem from one-time events such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011.

“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,” says the author, Sharon Lerner.

“This bald industry bid to subvert public health-based regulations that can cut into profit isn’t new,” she adds. “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.”

Those on the other side of the issue say that, generally, the EPA has long over-reached and that it needs to be reigned in. The proposed science bill would prohibit the EPA from “proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based on science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Even scientists and those in the Obama administration have argued as much. However, the question is whether the measure puts forth goes too far and whether its real intention is to undo the EPA.

To that end, the Congressional Research Service produced a paper in December 2016 that examines major actions taken by EPA from January 2009 to late 2016. It found that a host of factors must be considered before determining the virtues — or lack thereof — of EPA rules and regulations. Not taking into consideration such things as judicial reviews and comments periods will “underestimate” the complexities of the regulatory process while “overstating” the near-term impact on those actions.

Along those lines, the same report says that Congress often relies on data provided by the interest groups to make policy decisions. That information varies based on the assumptions used and who is paying for the outcome.

New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity says that when interest groups or lawmakers discuss the economics of regulations, companies and communities need to wear their thinking caps. The variables used to arrive at calculations are glossed over while the “bottom lines” are publicized.

“Perhaps most importantly, analysts and policymakers must recognize that even the most sophisticated job impact analyses (will) have only limited predictive power in our complex and dynamic economy,” says the institute’s report. “The degree of uncertainty … should be acknowledged.”

The Secret Science Reform Act should be viewed under the same microscope.

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