House votes to limit EPA to science based on “public data”

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, in Washington Wednesday. (Photo: James Osborne)

Legislation putting stricter limits on what scientific findings the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can and can not use to justify its regulations passed the Republican-controlled House Wednesday.

The bill, called the HONEST Act, would require the agency to use only scientific findings for which the underlying data is publicly available, potentially leaving out medical studies that do not make data public to protect patient privacy. Such studies are used frequently by the EPA in creating regulations on everything from power plant emissions to acceptable levels of cancer-causing toxins in drinking water.

“The American people have a right to see the data that is used to justify EPA’s costly regulations,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, author of the bill and chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a statement.  “The days of ‘trust me’ science are over. Allowing EPA’s data to be independently reviewed promotes sound science that will restore confidence in the EPA decision-making process.”

Democrats have long opposed the measure, arguing it, “would prevent EPA from functioning effectively and using the most relevant scientific data,” according to a recent memo from the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Groups opposing the bill include the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society and the Association of American Universities, which represents the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.

Within Smith’s legislation there is a provision requiring the EPA to redact any confidential information or that which might be used to identify an individual before releasing the data. But the bill only sets aside $1 million for the process of making studies public – something the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2015 would cost $1 billion over the next four years.

“The result—EPA’s work grinds to a halt and the health of Americans and the environment are put at risk,” the Democratic memo reads.

Similar legislation, also authored by Smith, passed the House in 2015 and but never got a floor vote in the Senate.