Yesterday, the House passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science, or HONEST, Act. Tortured use of acronym aside, this Act is anything but honest.
The GOP claims the act is to force the EPA to provide the raw data behind all of its decisions. However, the primary reason for the Act is to inhibit regulations based, in part, on confidential or proprietary raw data. The Act’s inspiration came from research published in 1993 and known as the Harvard Six Cities Study.
To summarize the Six Cities Study, the research found that people in cities with dirty air were dying sooner than people living in cities with clean air.
This research formed the basis for many of the EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations related to particulate matter. If you can clearly see the skyline of LA now, and breathe its air without a facial mask, thank the authors of the Six Cities Study.
Industries have sought to undermine the science of the Studies since the 1993 publication. To do so, they’ve demanded all the raw data behind the studies, including enough personal medical information to expose the identity of the study participants. As lead researcher, Douglas Dockery, noted in testimony in front of Congress in 1997:
… because it had promised study participants confidentiality, Harvard couldn’t share the raw data from its federally funded Six Cities study.
Is this type of raw data necessary? No.
If study conclusions and medical advancements can only be made from studies where subject identities are exposed, we’d all still be chewing tree bark in order to alleviate our pain.
Congress is still after this data at the behest of industry. In 2013, Representative Smith tried to subpoena the data from the EPA. When the request went unfulfilled, in large part because the EPA didn’t control the raw data, the House passed the first of the HONEST acts. It has attempted to pass the same or similar bill every year since.
Several medical associations, including the American Lung Association, National Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association wrote a letter to Representative Smith expressing their concern about the HONEST bill and its companion, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017. In it, they wrote:
This legislation would limit the kinds of scientific data EPA can use as it develops policy to protect the American public from environmental exposures and permit violation of patient confidentiality. If enacted, the legislation would:
- Allow the EPA administrator to release confidential patient information to third parties, including industry;
- Bolster industry’s flawed arguments to discredit research that documents the adverse health effects of environmental pollution; and
- Impose new standards for the publication and distribution of scientific research that go beyond the robust, existing requirements of many scientific journals.
They further state:
Science, developed by the respected men and women scientists at colleges and universities across the United States, has always been the foundation of the nation’s environmental policy. EPA’s science-based decision-making process has saved lives and led to dramatic improvements in the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth we share. All Americans have benefited from the research based scientific advice that scientists have provided to EPA.
The HONEST Act—not as honest as its sponsor claim—now goes to the Senate. The Senate has not moved on previous iterations of the bill because of a threatened Presidential veto. Unfortunately, we no longer have this protection, as Trump has signaled there is no polluting bill he won’t embrace.
Thankfully, the filibuster is still in place in the Senate, and I fully expect Democrats to exercise it on our behalf. All Democrats…this is one bill where no one gets a pass.
Photo courtesy of DaiLou CC BY 2.0