Veteran lawmakers from Texas clash over EPA subpoena

By Lexi Smith
Houston Chronicle

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is putting up a fight against fellow Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, and she isn’t backing down.

On Tuesday, Johnson, the top Democrat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, sent panel chairman Smith a letter to express her concerns about the EPA subpoena that would force the agency to release information used to justify costly air regulations.

Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, stated that the chairman’s actions have become an “attack on the personal privacy of hundreds of thousands of Americans, an attack on the scientific process, and an attack on public health.”

The letter is the latest in an unusual clash between two veteran lawmakers who have developed a close personal relationship as their parties’ leaders on a key congressional committee.

Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have been seeking data from the EPA for over two years with no success. Last week, Smith, a San Antonio Republican, finally subpoenaed the agency, making this the first congressional subpoena issued by the Science Committee in 21 years.

Johnson criticized the chairman in a recent hearing over the “secret data” and questioned his motives for wanting to obtain the records.

Some of the data in question is up to 30 years old, but Smith believes that the data is being used to justify regulations such as EPA’s limits on ozone that will cost taxpayers $90 billion per year.

The research that is being subpoenaed contains health records, but Smith has ensured that any personal health information would be removed before the data is released to the public.

Johnson begged the chairman to cease his efforts to release the data:

“Mr. Chairman, I have many concerns about this entire process. Unfortunately the Minority’s concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears. I hope you will provide thoughtful answers to the questions I’ve asked. The American people deserve no less. After all, it is their health records you are asking for, not the EPA’s. I implore you again to stop what you are doing. The actions you are taking are wrong. You are abusing Congressional power to harass the EPA Administrator. You are undermining our legitimate scientific research enterprise. You are violating the trust that hundreds of thousands of research volunteers placed in our country’s premier research institutions. And for what purpose? To provide human health data to tobacco industry consultants? If you continue on this path, you will cause irreparable harm to our Committee and our country. Please reconsider the path you have chosen.”

Rep. Smith believes that Americans have the right to see the taxpayer-funded research that is used to rationalize the Clear Air Act regulation proposed by the Obama administration.

He released the following statement after reading Johnson’s letter:

“Under the EPA’s current process, only a select few who support the EPA’s agenda are authorized to access and analyze the data in question. But this ignores the need for congressional oversight of taxpayer-funded research. I have made clear that any personal health information that is in the subpoenaed data will be protected and removed before the data is made public. But I have also made clear that the American people and American taxpayers who funded these studies have a right to see the information and determine whether the EPA is basing its regulations on sound science. If the EPA has nothing to hide, why not provide this information to the Committee? But for almost two years, the agency has failed to live up to its promises to provide Congress with the basic data used to support the Administration’s billion dollar air regulations. In fact, EPA’s newly confirmed Administrator Gina McCarthy promised in September 2011 that she would make the data sets available to the Committee. Even though she now heads the agency, she has yet to provide the promised data to the Committee. One of these regulations is expected to be the most expensive in US history – costing American taxpayers and businesses $90 billion annually. Ensuring public access to taxpayer funded-data that is used in regulations is good science and good government. Rather than help the EPA hide this data, Ranking Member Johnson and Committee Democrats should support the American people’s right to see the taxpayer-funded data behind the Administration’s costly regulations.”

Eddie Bernice Johnson’s Letter to Lamar Smith