Ending secret science at EPA
Administrator Pruitt initiates overdue changes to bring transparency, integrity to rulemaking
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has proposed to end the longstanding EPA practice of using secretive, often questionable, even deceptive science to support agency policy and regulatory initiatives. His proposed rules will ensure that any science underlying agency actions is transparent and publicly available for independent experts to examine and validate – or point out its flaws.
It also responds to growing concerns that extensive scientific research in environmental, medical and other arenas cannot be replicated by other scientists, or is compromised by cherry-picked data, poor research design, sloppy analysis or biased researchers. The situation has led to calls for increased sharing of data and methodologies, more independent peer review and other actions to weed out problems. There is no excuse for hiding data when studies are funded by taxpayers or used to justify regulations.
The situation has been especially acute at EPA. As Mr. Pruitt observed, “The ability to test, authenticate and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of the rule making process. Americans deserve to assess the legitimacy of the science underpinning EPA decisions that may impact their lives.”
That is particularly true for regulations that exact millions or billions in compliance costs, affect thousands of jobs, target industries and coal-fired electricity generators that regulators want to close down, or seek to replace all fossil fuel use with “renewable” energy. With the cumulative economic impact of federal regulations reaching nearly $2 trillion per year, research reform is absolutely essential.
We need regulation and pollution control – but it must be based on solid, replicable, honest science.
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has held hearings and championed multiple bills to address the problem. Several have been passed by the House of Representatives, only to languish in the Senate. With courts offering little or no help, Executive Branch action may be the only remaining solution.
Deceptive, faulty science on fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) was the bedrock of the Obama EPA’s war on coal. Particulates don’t just make you sick; they are directly related “to dying sooner than you should,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson falsely told Congress. There is no level “at which premature mortality effects do not occur,” Mr. Obama’s next Administrator Gina McCarthy dishonestly testified.
At the same time they made these claims, they were presiding over illegal experiments on humans – including people with asthma, diabetes and heart disease – who were subjected to eight, 30 or even 60 times more particulates per volume, for up to two hours, than what EPA claimed are dangerous or lethal. None of them got sick, proving that EPA’s claims were false. The agency refused to correct its claims.
EPA took a similar stance on mercury – asserting that power plant emissions were causing dangerously high mercury levels in American children and pregnant women. In reality, US power plants account for just 0.5% of all the mercury in the air Americans breathe, and blood mercury counts for US women and children are well below even EPA’s excessively safe levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
How did EPA’s junk science, illegal experiments and heavy-handed regulations pass muster? For one thing, politics too often dictated the science. In addition, the agency paid more than $180 million over a 16-year period to institutions represented by members of its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which often rubberstamped studies and conclusions that failed integrity and transparency tests.
It reached this conclusion by looking only at studies and computer models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while ignoring volumes of studies by independent scientists who found no such threat. EPA officials even told one of the agency’s own senior experts that his studies would not be shared with agency staff and he was to cease any further work on climate change, because his analyses “do not help the legal or policy case for this decision” that fossil fuel CO2 emissions endanger Americans.
EPA was also a principal force behind the “social cost of carbon” scheme that supposedly calculated how much CO2-driven climate change would cost the United States and how those costs would be reduced by slashing fossil fuel use. The alleged cost of damages began at an arbitrary $22 per ton of carbon dioxide released in 2010, then climbed to an equally random $30 per ton in 2013 and $40 per ton in 2016.
Incredibly, EPA modelers also claimed they can accurately forecast global temperatures, climate and weather, technological advances, economic development, living standards – and damages to global civilizations and ecosystems from US carbon dioxide emissions – for the next 300 years! Moreover, in the real world, the benefits of using carbon-based fuels and improving crop, forest and grassland growth via higher atmospheric CO2 levels outweigh hypothesized costs by at least 50-to-1 to as much as 500-to-1.
Deceptive, politicized, policy-driven “science” like this pervaded EPA regulatory actions for too many years. Reaction to Mr. Pruitt’s corrective actions show how poorly informed his critics can be.
* The changes will force researchers to reveal personal or confidential information about participants in health studies. No they won’t. Such information is not needed and can easily be redacted.
* EPA can keep us safe from harmful chemicals only if it takes full advantage of all available scientific research. Public health and safety depend on ensuring that research and data purportedly supporting it are made public and carefully reviewed by multiple experts, to ensure accuracy and integrity. EPA will take full advantage of all available research that passes these tests. Tax-funded studies should all be public!
* The rules will exclude studies that rely on outside funding sources which limit access to underlying data. Those studies should be excluded. The funders need to revise their policies to ensure integrity.
* The rules will exclude so much research that they will endanger public health. Not so. The only studies EPA will likely not see is what researchers know will not pass muster, and thus do not submit. The real danger comes from research that is based on shoddy data, algorithms, models and analyses that past researchers have been able to keep secret. That is precisely what the rules will ferret out and correct.
* Pruitt has removed scientists who receive EPA funding from participating in advisory committees. As noted above, those scientists had received millions of dollars in exchange for supporting EPA analyses, initiatives and regulations. Pruitt wants input from experts whose views can be trusted.
* Pruitt has criticized the peer review process. Too many peer reviews have been conducted by closed circles of associated scientists who rely on government grants and support regulatory decisions to maintain funding. Some refused to share data with experts who might critique their work – or worked to keep contrarian research out of scientific journals. The fact that some journals rarely require access to or review of underlying data further demonstrates why the peer review process also needs to be reformed.
Too many past EPA policies, policy-driven research and regulations have been employed to force the nation to abandon fossil fuels that still supply 80% of US and global energy – and switch to expensive, intermittent, unreliable wind and solar energy installations that will require unsustainable amounts of land and raw materials, while destroying wildlife habitats and slaughtering birds and bats by the millions.
Those actions also killed numerous jobs and left many communities impoverished. Simply put, the danger to Americans’ health and welfare, livelihoods and living standards is regulations imposed in response to secretive, sloppy, substandard science that has ill-served EPA and the nation.
Ethics charges against Mr. Pruitt should be evaluated with all this in mind – and while acknowledging that members of Congress who are railing against him never complained about Lisa Jackson or Gina McCarthy’s CASAC payment abuses, illegal experiments on human test subjects, false testimony about particulates, EPA-orchestrated sue-and-settle lawsuits that imposed billions in regulations while enriching environmentalist groups … and junk-science regulations that cost the United States incalculable billions of dollars, brought no environmental benefits, and impaired the welfare of millions of people.
Pruitt’s reforms are long overdue. Honest politicians, journalists and voters will applaud him and them. Other government agencies should initiate similar science and rulemaking reforms.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.