CPR Scholars Weigh in on 'Secret Science Reform Act'

by Matthew Freeman

February 11, 2014

A group of eight CPR Member Scholars today submitted a letter to Reps. David Schweikert and Suzanne Bonamici, the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on the Environment. The letter levels a series of powerful criticisms at Schweikert's proposed "Secret Science Reform Act," yet another in a series of bills from House Republicans aimed at gumming up efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise authority granted it by Congress to protect the environment.

Schweikert and his cosponsors maintain that the EPA is adopting regulations based on science that should be available to the public, but is not. That's true. But the bill steers clear of the actual problem, and instead focuses on harassing EPA regulators. The real problem with secret science in the regulatory process is that industry science is carefully shielded from public scrutiny by statute. By contrast, the studies Schweikert goes after are typically published in peer-reviewed journals. As the scholars write, 

H.R. 4012 threatens to undermine the scientific rigor of EPA’s decision-making while leaving the true “secret science” problem untouched. “Secret science” is indeed pervasive in some regulatory programs, yet H.R. 4012 does nothing to address the most serious problems since it inoculates from its reach existing, outdated legal provisions that tolerate the sequestration of research. For example, under Section 10(g) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the public and affected parties are not allowed to view the studies underlying EPA’s licensing of pesticides until after the agency’s registration decision is concluded, and even then the research is available only to the public under tightly constrained circumstances. 1 Even more problematic, as a result of aggressive trade secret claims, the research on the safety of more than 17,000 chemicals regulated by EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act is completely insulated from public view by law. Such impediments to public access undermine independent evaluations of the evidence used by EPA in its regulation, yet they remain untouched by the very bill that promises to expose this secret science.

By contrast, H.R. 4012 targets publicly available research, much of which has been published in peer reviewed journals, as the area in need of heightened transparency. Even more perplexing, the bill tasks EPA -- not the researchers -- with the enormous task of amassing the data underlying each relevant study. If EPA is unable to summon the resources or time to access this underlying information or is otherwise unable to acquire the data, it is apparently prohibited from considering the stud(ies) in its regulatory decision. 

The scholars go on to criticize the proposal because it would impose significant new costs that are "disproportionate to any plausible benefits," and "facilitate further mechanisms for harassing scientists."

The co-authors are CPR Member Scholars John Applegate, Holly Doremus, Emily Hammond, Thomas McGarity, Noah Sachs, Sidney Shapiro, Rena Steinzor and Wendy Wagner. 

NRDC's John Walke live-tweeted Schweiker's  hearing this morning on the bill. Take a look.


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