The House recently passed an extremely insidious bill along party lines, with votes cast 229-191. H.R. 1422, or the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2014,” aims to provide “balance” to the Science Advisory Board at EPA by reducing the influence of independent research scientists and increasing the influence of “industry experts” on the payroll of energy and chemical corporations.
Here’s the thing about the Science Advisory Board — it advises strictly on matters of science, not policy. This bill would make employment, rather than education, a prime factor in determining candidacy.
In fact, 1422 specifically states that monetary conflicts of interest are cool, but actually blocks scientists from giving advice on matters relating to their own work — meaning experts can’t talk about the research that makes them experts. It turns “scientist” into a bureaucratic term rather than an academic one.
Unfortunately, corruption has turned science into a matter of politics in scary ways. When big companies are financing political campaigns, it leads to politicians questioning science that damages those companies in some way — by making them pay for environmental damage, or capping emissions, or stopping oil wells from being drilled. There is no place for politicians or corporate representatives on the Science Advisory Board.
Established by Congress in 1978, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is authorized to:
- Review the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information being used by the EPA.
- Provide science advice as requested by the EPA Administrator.
- Advise the agency on broad scientific matters.
In other words, the SAB exists not to advocate any particular policy, but to evaluate whether the best science is being used in agency decisions.
But what constitutes the “best science” is an increasingly relative concept on Capitol Hill these days. And Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) claimed that he was making it better when he sponsored H.R. 1422, otherwise known as the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013. [sic]
Let’s talk about Rep. Stewart (R-UT) for a moment, the primary sponsor of the bill. Let’s also talk about Rep. Smith (R-TX), Rep. Hall (R-TX), Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Harris (R-MD), and Rep. Benishek (R-MI), the other sponsors.
Let’s talk about how only one of them, Rep. Rohrabacher, has taken less than $100,000 from the oil and gas industry — in the cases of Reps. Smith and Hall, more than $600,000 has entered their campaign chests. Rohrabacher, at $93,000, is from California — probably the only reason the energy industry has largely ignored him.
And that doesn’t take into account pharmaceutical companies, energy companies aside from gas and oil, mining, agribusiness, real estate, and chemical manufacturing, all of which are industries that have a financial interest in influencing EPA regulations.
To a certain extent, many corporate interests have a financial stake in EPA regulations. Each of the sponsors of this bill have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases millions, from these corporations. It makes sense they’d sponsor legislation so obviously designed to benefit them.
Now, we shouldn’t feel too fearful at this point. President Obama will likely veto any legislation that threatens the independence of the Science Advisory Board, the White House has said. Still, the passage of this bill by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives shows what they’re after — and with Senate control coming next year, you can bet they’ll try again, framing it as an attempt to “reform” the “Obama EPA.” And with a Republican president, this would certainly become law.
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