Republicans are using the language of science reformers to obstruct the EPA.
Over the past two days, the House has passed the “HONEST Act” and the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act.” On the surface, they seem noble. They use the same language scientists use when advocating for stronger research practices.
But they’re “wolf in sheep’s clothing types of statutes,” says Sarah Lamdan, a law professor who studies environmental information access at CUNY. “What’s really happening is that they’re preventing the EPA from doing its job.”
First, the “HONEST Act”
The HONEST Act is this year’s version of a piece of legislation formerly called the “Secret Science Reform Act.” Its sponsor is Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology — the same Congress member who, by the way, said that President Donald Trump “might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
The HONEST Act stipulates that the EPA can’t make any assessment or analysis based on science that not openly accessible to the public. Specifically, the text states the EPA can’t cite research that isn’t:
publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results, except that any personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential, shall be redacted prior to public availability.
Sounds reasonable, right? If passed by the Senate, it would mean the EPA would have to make all the data it uses in its decision-making freely available online so that public and independent researchers could more easily scrutinize its decisions. For sensitive health data, the bill has provision that would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to redact.