Monday, August 12, 2013

Science Comm. Leaders Exchange Heated Letters On EPA Subpoena

Aug 8: On August 6, House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) in response to the Committee's recent authorization and issuance of a subpoena to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy for documents related to the Clean Air Act. The subpoena, which was authorized by the Republican controlled Committee over the objections of the Democrats, is designed to force EPA to release the what Chairman Smith said is the "secret science it uses as the basis for costly air regulations." Chairman Smith said, "Over the past two years, the Committee has repeatedly requested the data the agency uses to justify virtually every Clean Air Act regulation proposed and finalized by the Obama administration. This was the first congressional subpoena the Science Committee has issued in 21 years." He said, "The two data sets in question are used to justify major costly new air regulations. As one example, by its own estimates the EPA's proposed limits on ozone will cost taxpayers $90 billion per year, making it the most costly regulation the federal government has ever issued. Some of the data in question is up to 30-years-old."

    Rep. Johnson said, "On August 2, the EPA Administrator was served with a subpoena issued by you pursuant to this authorization (attached). As you know, I strongly opposed the authorization and issuance of this subpoena.  However, as you have determined to proceed despite my strong objections, I have several questions about how this process will be conducted by the Committee.

    "As the Democratic Members of the Committee pointed out during the business meeting to authorize the subpoenas, you had previously indicated that you planned to transmit any research data obtained pursuant to the subpoena to unidentified third parties. Upon repeated questioning by Democratic Members of the Committee, you refused to identify to whom you intended to pass this data. Representative Edwards pointed out that legitimate scientific researchers already had the ability to access the Harvard University and American Cancer Society data sets."

    Rep. Johnson pointed out the problems with the two researchers identified by the Chairman the may review the data. She also pointed out that, "I would note that when the Health Effects Institute conducted a thorough re-analysis of the Harvard Six Cities Study and the American Cancer Society related study, it took a team of 30 researchers three years to complete their work.  It certainly seems unlikely that one statistical researcher, acting on his own, could replicate this task in a useful timeframe." She said, "Mr. Chairman, this is no longer a dispute between the EPA and the Majority.  By your actions, this has 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. "

    Rep. Johnson concluded, "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."
    Chairman Smith responded on August 8, that, "The request of the Committee, and the more recently issued subpoena, is based on the principle of transparency, which requires that the information used to justify major, costly regulations be open and available to the public. . . I have made clear that any personal health information that may be in the subpoenaed data will be protected and removed before the data are made public. However, I have also made clear that the American taxpayers have a right to see this de-identified information and determine whether the EPA is basing its regulations on sound science. . . Further, if this information cannot be made public in a manner sufficient for validation and re-analysis while protecting confidential information, EPA should not be using it to justify major regulations. I hope and expect that EPA will provide this information in a manner sufficient for independent validation and replication by the deadline included in the subpoena. . .
    "Ensuring public access to taxpayer funded-data that are used in regulations supports good science and good government.  Consistent with this principle, once the Committee receives the data sets, I intend to make them publically available.  Certainly, the principle of an open and transparent government is not supported by policies that allow certain groups access to the information, but prevent access to others. This is precisely what is now occurring and should be corrected."

    Access a release from Chairman Smith and the subpoena (click here). Access the release and letter form Rep. Johnson (click here). Access the release and response from Chairman Smith (click here). [#Air]

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