Small Business Leaders, Manufacturers Support Open Science Regulatory Reforms In Congress
Research and data used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to justify new regulations would be more accessible and subject to outside scrutiny under a bill that’s moving through Congress with the support of small business leaders, manufacturers, the construction industry and other key economic sectors.
The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 (HONEST Act) passed the U.S. House this week in a bipartisan 228-194 vote. The bill requires EPA to use “the best available science” and make sure the information relied upon is “publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results,” according to summary of the bill.
For years, federal lawmakers have called on the EPA to make the research and data used to support its regulatory actions available to the public and to other scientists. During the Obama administration, the EPA and the U.S. House Science Committee had a high-profile tussle over access to the data, which resulted in lawmakers demanding the information by subpoena. The Obama EPA argued much of the data was confidential and owned by third parties and therefore could not be made public.
Businesses and industries targeted by EPA regulations have thrown their weight behind the HONEST Act as a way to make sure there are checks and balances on how the agency uses and interprets scientific data.
“Small business owners and all Americans must be confident that EPA regulations are rooted in legitimate science, and can be vetted through a transparent and open process,” Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepeneurship Council, said in the lead up to this week’s House vote. There has been “considerable controversy” over the Obama administration’s justification for key environmental policies, such as the “social cost of carbon” and a decision to ratchet down the federal ozone standard close to background levels in some parts of the country, Kerrigan said.
“The EPA needs to be smarter, more transparent and prudent in terms of how it regulates,” Kerrigan said. “The stinging impact of EPA’s regulatory costs on small businesses and the economy demands such transparency.”
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), whose members manufacture plastics and other materials, welcomed the House vote, noting that the bill protects confidential information while allowing “underlying data” used by the EPA to be shared and reviewed. “It is critical that the regulated community and the public have confidence that decisions reached by EPA are grounded in transparent and reproducible science,” the ACC said.
“Far too often, the EPA relies on science that lacks transparency and reliability to buttress their rulemakings,” the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) said before the House vote. “This is a consequence of the EPA conducting their scientific review of rulemakings behind closed doors,” the group said.
NAHB’s members build around 80 percent of the nation’s new homes and the group has 700 member associations at the state and local level. “The EPA should not be able to create costly regulations without being transparent, fair and open to public input when considering the science behind a rulemaking,” the group said.
Groups representing energy producers – including the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance – have also endorsed the HONEST Act. The Alliance represents the Western oil and natural gas industry and is a supporter of Western Wire.
EPA policies are also a major concern to energy-intensive industries, such as cement-making. The Portland Cement Association (PCA) – whose members produce 92 percent of the nation’s cement – said the bill “would improve fairness and transparency in the regulatory process, while promoting use of the best available science,” the group said before the House vote.
“Scientists reviewing agency studies and rulemakings need a fair chance to evaluate and validate the studies EPA relies on in the rulemaking process,” the trade group said. Cement and concrete production in the U.S. supports 535,000 jobs with a combined annual payroll of $25 billion, according to the PCA.
Environmental activist groups, who were key allies of the Obama EPA, oppose the HONEST Act. The bill, which now goes to the U.S. Senate for debate, could “make it impossible for EPA to consider, use or rely upon many kinds of economic models, other scientific models and trade secrets that may be proprietary,” a coalition of groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice said this week.
But U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House science committee, defended the bill. “Really, it comes down to whether you are for an open and honest government or not,” Smith said during the debate on the House floor. “That is what this bill is all about.”