House Science Committee Plans to 'Make the EPA Great Again'—By Destroying It

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House Science Committee Plans to 'Make the EPA Great Again'—By Destroying It

While the House Science Committee plots to strangle EPA science, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) proposes a bill that would abolish the agency entirely

A protest sign during President Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017.

A protest sign in Washington, D.C., during President Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017. (Photo: Julia DeSantis/flickr/cc)

Only two weeks into the climate change-denying Trump administration, Republican members of Congress are already setting their sights on destroying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That's the apparent aim of Tuesday's "Making EPA Great Again" hearing, held by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, during which members are expected to discuss legislation that would severely limit the kinds of scientific studies the EPA is allowed to use—and greatly curtail the agency's regulatory powers.

The Intercept reports on the so-called "Secret Science Reform Act":

[The bill] would limit the EPA to using only data that can be replicated or made available for "independent analysis."

The proposal may sound reasonable enough at first. But because health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share, the bill would prevent the EPA from using many of the best scientific studies. It would also prohibit using studies of one-time events, such as the Gulf oil spill or the effect of a partial ban of chlorpyrifos on children, which fueled the EPA's decision to eliminate all agricultural uses of the pesticide, because these events—and thus the studies of them—can't be repeated. Although it is nominally about transparency, the bill leaves intact protections that allow industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome.

Scott Faber, senior vice president of government relations for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), had stronger words for the committee's plans. "The secret science bill is just horseshit," he told the Huffington Post. "No agency has more integrity when it comes to using science and being transparent than the EPA. This is a poorly disguised war on basic health and protections."

The House Science Committee, led by passionately anti-science Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), last year tried to intimidate environmental groups calling for an investigation into Exxon's climate fraud. Most recently, the committee made headlines in December for tweeting an article from the far-right website Breitbart that casts doubt on climate science.

And members of the House Science Committee aren't the only Republicans seeking to dismantle the EPA.

On Friday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) put forth a bill that would eradicate the agency entirely. "When it was originally created, states and local communities didn't have the technology or expertise to protect the environment," Gaetz told the Courier-Journal. "We've come a long way in the last 50 years. Time and again, I've seen constituents unknowingly subject themselves to the oppressive jurisdiction of the EPA by doing simple things."

Gaetz, who has received massive campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, doesn't appear concerned that his own state is already grappling with rapidly rising seas as a result of global warming.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt's plans to gut the very agency that President Donald Trump has nominated him to lead.

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Pruitt, the Times writes, seeks to weaken the EPA's regulatory powers in such a way that it will be difficult for future administrations to undo. A draft climate proposal that Pruitt created in 2014—while preparing to sue the Obama administration over new climate rules—points to how Pruitt may go about doing so.

The newspaper reports:

Mr. Pruitt's draft climate rule is designed to leave most coal-fired power plants open, but require them to install energy-efficient technology to slightly lower their emissions.

"A rule like that might satisfy the letter of the law," said Richard J. Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard, "and would probably cut emissions less than a quarter of the Obama rule."

If the Pruitt-authored climate change rule withstood legal challenges, it could stand for decades, allowing the fossil fuel industry to thrive and planet-warming emissions to increase.

That approach would most likely be carried out throughout the EPA under Mr. Pruitt’s guidance. For example, Mr. Trump wants to repeal the Obama water regulation, known as the Waters of the United States rule, which would make it a federal crime to pollute in most rivers, streams and wetlands across the country. Simply repealing that rule would create a thicket of new legal challenges, but Mr. Pruitt could replace it with water regulations that were more limited in scope.

The full Senate will vote on Pruitt's nomination this week.

"The point here will be, more than in any prior administration, to reduce the agency's effectiveness so much that it can't recover even when the political winds change," David Doniger, a former EPA lawyer who now works for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explained to the Times.

Yet experts fear that even if future administrations could undo such changes, the earth may not have time to spare, as the planet is warming astonishingly fast—as the record-shattering temperatures in the Arctic are currently demonstrating:

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