House Republicans Question EPA 'Secret Science'

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy faced GOP questions Thursday over her agency's use of science to back up its regulations. (National Journal)

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency played regulation whack-a-mole Thursday on Capitol Hill, as Republicans on the House Science Committee spent the morning popping credibility questions about each of their least favorite regulations.

Gina McCarthy had been called to testify about GOP charges that the EPA uses "secret science" to justify its regulations and fails to balance economic costs with environmental benefits.

Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wanted answers about a leaked proposal that would give the agency expanded jurisdiction over waterways. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., questioned ethanol mandates under the renewable-fuel standard, contending elevated levels of the biofuel in gasoline would damage engines. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, quizzed McCarthy on hydraulic fracturing, twice accused her of filibustering and, exasperated, said: "Maybe I can't understand anything you say because you're hard to believe, ma'am."

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, challenged McCarthy's contention that carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal-fired power plants is near commercial readiness. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., took issue with a rule that requires utilities to improve aquatic-life protections on intake equipment. Smith asked another question on ozone standards.

McCarthy countered that "science is the backbone of our decision-making" and praised the peer review and public disclosure methods used by the agency. "I'm incredibly proud of the science this agency relies on," she said.

She defended each of the regulations challenged by lawmakers as well as the scientific process EPA used to develop them.

But Republicans would have none of it. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., accused the agency of creating a "closed loop" that drafts sweeping regulations and then rigs scientific findings to justify them. And while most of the GOP committee members questioned the science behind the regulations, one questioned its usefulness in the first place. "Does science ever change or get proven wrong?" asked Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, showing little surprise when McCarthy answered in the affirmative.

As the hearing went on, questions strayed into some more unusual subject matter, as evidenced on Twitter.

Rep. Massie just asked McCarthy if she is looking to regulate the methane emissions from cows -- what happens when hearings go too long.

— Laura Barron-Lopez (@lbarronlopez) November 14, 2013

Gina McCarthy tells House committee EPA not exploring regulating methane emissions from cow flatulence.

— Jason Plautz (@Jason_Plautz) November 14, 2013

Now @GinaEPA being asked at House Science hearing how many ice ages there have been. #Congress

— Darren Goode (@DarrenGoode) November 14, 2013

McCarthy was given the occasional reprieve when some Democrats offered up their questions. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., asked her to talk about how EPA rules have created jobs. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., wondered about documentation of climate change. "We have a wealth of data that is more than sufficient," McCarthy said. "Great!" Edwards replied.