Bill Would Ban EPA From Using 'Secret Science'

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Bill Would Ban EPA From Using Secret Science In Making Regulations. John Drysdale/Getty Images

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using so-called “secret science” in creating new federal regulations.

Congressional Republicans have long criticized the EPA for imposing often very costly regulations based on scientific research that is not available to the public, essentially preventing public scrutiny or comment on the proposed rules.

However, under the tantalizingly-titled Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1030), sponsored by House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the EPA would in most cases be prohibited from issuing any regulations based on scientific research that is not readily available to the public.

Specifically, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 states that the EPA may no longer “propose, finalize, or disseminate” new regulations unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support the regulation is “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

Rep. Smith, along with other supporters of the bill, argues that in issuing some to the most costly federal regulations in history, the EPA should be far more publicly transparent. For example, Smith points to an EPA ozone regulation he says will cost taxpayers over $90 billion per year, but was created based on scientific research that the EPA has so far refused to make public.

“The EPA has argued that it has scientific data to justify its regulations, but has refused to base regulations on data that is publicly available,” stated Rep. Smith in a press release. “A recent poll from the Institute of Energy Research found that 90 percent of Americans agree that studies and data used to make federal government decisions should be public.”

Critics say the law could prevent the EPA from considering critical results from public health research that uses patient data because federal law prohibits making confidential patient data public.

Such restrictions, say critics, would make it harder and more costly for the EPA to enact regulations necessary to protect public health and protect the environment.

The Cost of Transparency

As with other things in government, even transparency comes at cost. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that complying with the Secret Science Reform Act add from $10,000 to $30,000 to the cost each of the approximately 50,000 scientific studies conducted by the EPA – and paid for by taxpayers – every year.

Will the Bill be Enacted?

The House passed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 on March 18 by a vote of vote of 241-175, in which only two Democrats joined 239 Republicans in voting for passage.

A similar bill was approved in the House in 2014, but was never voted on by the then – but not now -- Democratic-controlled Senate. President Obama has indicated he would veto the bill, should it reach his desk.

Also See: How Bills Become Laws or Not