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The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, "Zombie" Bills, And Privacy

In November 2014, the GOP-led House passed HR 1422. At that time, Inhabit summarized the bill and the issues associated with it:

“Bill H.R. 1422, also known as the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, passed 229-191. It was sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT), pictured. The bill changes the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Among many other things, it states: “Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work.” This means that a scientist who had published a peer-reviewed paper on a particular topic would not be able to advise the EPA on the findings contained within that paper. That is, the very scientists who know the subject matter best would not be able to discuss it.”

Thankfully, the White House threatened to veto this if passed. I don’t know about you, but I want the stewards at the EPA to have ALL of the facts when making decisions about how best to protect our air, water, and lands. And, peer-reviewed science articles are part of the facts... important facts, too, the EPA should be allowed to consider in its decisions.

There’s more. Proponents claim the bill solves conflict-of-interest concerns, but really doesn’t:

“Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote a letter to House Representatives stating: “This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic...”


For a bill to become law, it must be passed by both the House and Senate with the exact same language. Usually, the Senate proposes its bill version, and negotiations ensue. S 543 is the current Senate version. Some people have claimed that the Inhabit article is misleading. It wasn't. To understand why, one must understand both bill version. Below is the same clause from both bills:

HR 1422S 543
"E) Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work" "E) Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work, unless fully disclosed to the public and the work has been externally peer-reviewed..."

So, S 543 contains better language. The Inhabit article was correct to highlight the faulty language in HR 1422. Senate Bill 543 also contains this:

"To facilitate public participation in the advisory activities of the Board, the Administrator and the Board shall make public all reports and relevant scientific information and shall provide materials to the public at the same time as received by members of the Board."

So, the limitations mentioned in "E" are unnecessary since all studies will be made public. Problem solved, right? Not so fast.

The UCS explained problems in bills repeatedly submitted by House representatives. The UCS calls this proposed legislation, "zombie" bills:

"... anti-science “zombie” bills that House members insist on reintroducing over and over. These bills are written in such a way to appear to be something a science advocacy organization like the Union of Concerned Scientists would support, but upon close examination, it becomes clear that their intent is to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies from carrying out their duties."

An example of an anti-science "zombie" bill:

"... In a recent hearing on the so-called Secret Science bill, legislators accused the Environmental Protection Agency of “[relying] on studies with data that was not publicly available... The House passed... the Secret Science Reform Act, in mid-March... the bill, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), would prohibit the EPA from implementing a regulation unless it makes public all related data, scientific analyses, materials and models. That’s a big problem, despite the fact that it sounds like a good idea."

The UCS explained why this is a problem:

"Agencies such as the EPA don’t make all this information publicly available for a number of very good reasons. Protecting individuals’ privacy is prime among them. For example, we’re all aware of the laws that protect the privacy of our medical records. The Secret Science bill appears to require the EPA to release such confidential personal health information about the participants in scientific studies if it wants to use health studies to make regulatory decisions—a direct violation of health privacy law. The bill also fails to protect intellectual property rights..."

So, Senate Bill 543 isn't the improvement it pretends to be. Why would legislators write bills that conflict with existing laws? Why would legislators write bills that erodes individuals' medical privacy? The UCS concluded:

"... if [the Secret Science] bill became law, the EPA would not be able to use public health data protected by confidentiality agreements to enact science-based regulations. The result? The EPA would not be able to carry out its mission of protecting public health and the environment. To be clear, there is nothing secret about the science that EPA uses to make decisions. The agency relies on peer-reviewed publications that have been vetted by relevant experts in and outside of the agency... The Secret Science Reform Act is clearly not in the public interest. It’s intended to enable industry to challenge proposed rules with competing analyses, slow the process, and cast doubt."

Senate Bill 543 doesn't seem to be in the public's interest, either. The whole affair still smells like another GOP attempt to neuter and de-claw the EPA, and then claim it is incompetent and unworthy of funding, after stealth efforts to make it that way. What are your opinions of the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act?


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