More industry, less science for EPA
By Lauren Coleman-Lochner
Congress and the Trump administration are planning sweeping changes in how science is used to govern public health.
Controversy over climate change is getting a lot of attention right now, but legislation under consideration would transform the way the Environmental Protection Agency combats pollution, identifies harmful pesticides, and classifies everyday toxins such as laundry detergent, window cleaner and clothing dye.
Lawmakers and environmentalists are predictably split on the legislation.Bills under deliberation would open EPA expert advisory panels to industry representatives and mandate the use in formulating policy of what sponsors call the “best available science,” which opponents say would exclude widely used research methods and delay action. An EPA program that certifies consumer products that are free of hazardous substances also could be in peril.
The bills “really pull the rug out from under the independence of the scientific process,” said Thomas Burke, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and a former EPA adviser. “We’re going to turn back the clock on public health. This is the most devastating blow I’ve ever seen.”
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who leads the House committee that oversees the EPA, said that “the days of trust-me science are over.’’
“Open and honest science should be at the core of the EPA’s mission rather than rules that end up costing American taxpayers billions of dollars,’’ Smith said in a statement last week.
That was Smith’s rationale for the Honest Act, which passed the House 228-194 on Wednesday. It would bar the EPA from creating any regulation based on data that’s not publicly available or can’t be replicated.
The law would mean eliminating studies that cite epidemiological research, such as the one that led to the banning of the pesticide DDT, which was shown to cause cancer in humans and deadly effects in birds, such as bald eagles. Leaded gasoline also was taken off the market because of epidemiological research, which exposed its link to brain damage in children.
A day after the House approved the Honest Act, the EPA Science Advisory Board Act passed 229-193, allowing industry representatives to serve without special permission, while excluding scientists whose research receives EPA funding. Doing that would prevent extreme views, according to its sponsor, Oklahoma Republican Representative Frank Lucas.