He has also gone directly at the scientific support for agency rules, part of an attack on what he calls “secret science.” He says that the administration has been keeping under wraps the data and analysis that backs up its environmental regulations and thus may be overstating the benefits of its rules.
“They're basically saying: 'Trust us. We'll use the data that we want to. You can't see it, but we think it justifies each regulation,’” Smith said in an interview.
“Give us the data, and we want it to be peer-reviewed, we want other scientists to evaluate it, we want the American people to see it,” he said. “And the fact that they're not doing it makes me very suspicious that the data does not show what they claim.”
This spring, the House passed Smith’s “Secret Science Reform Act,” which would require all EPA regulations to be based on publicly available data or studies that can be replicated. A Senate committee has approved a companion bill, although it has not made it to the floor, and the White House has promised a veto should it reach the president’s desk.
It’s part of a suite of bills that go after the scientific backing for the administration’s regulatory agenda. The Science Committee has also moved a bill reforming the makeup and role of the Scientific Advisory Boards that EPA relies on to back up its regulations. And a separate bill from the Judiciary Committee that passed the House would crack down on and tighten requirements for cost-benefit analyses and open up more public-comment opportunities.
Supporters say the goals are justifiable: Regulations should be based on public data, and independent scientists should be able to form their own analyses. Even President Obama called for more scientific transparency early in his first term. As Rep. Jim Bridenstine, an Oklahoma Republican, once asked at a hearing on the secret-science bill: “Is it too much to ask the EPA to follow the same guidelines I give my children in elementary school? Show your work?”
But Democrats and scientific organizations say those intentions aren’t so noble.
“I’m all in favor of data, where appropriate, being made publicly available. But this isn’t about that,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This is about telling the EPA they can’t move forward on their regulations and precluding them from using a number of studies on public health.”
The EPA has said that it’s simply impossible to turn over some of the data the Science Committee wants without disclosing confidential personal information. Attempts to get raw data from universities and other institutions, then strip it of any information that could identify individual patients, has proved time-consuming and costly.
A Congressional Budget Office report said that under Smith’s bill, EPA could end up paying between $10,000 and $30,000 for each study and, absent a funding increase, the measure would likely halve the number of studies EPA can rely on.