Use of evidence in environmental decision making in the USA

The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430), designed to constrain use of certain evidence in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s decision making, is moving through the US Parliament. The House of Representative passed the Bill by a vote of 228 to 194 and it now moves on to the Senate. The argument is that the HONEST Act will block the EPA from using the data it needs to fulfil its mission of having necessary data to make decisions protecting public health and the environment.

The full name of the HONEST Act legislation is the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017“. It  will amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 “to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such action is the best available science, specifically identified, and publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” A covered action comprehensively includes “a risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance.” The result would appear to be a restriction in some cases where the precautionary principle might otherwise have been used to help society and the environment.

Secret Science Reform

The publication “Public Protections Under Threat at the EPA” (March 2017) indicates “H.R. 1430 is the third attempt in recent years to pass legislation that would limit the EPA’s  use of particular kinds of scientific studies in developing rules and programs. Prior legislation includes the Secret Science Reform Acts of 2014 and 2015, which were almost  identical to H.R. 1430. Both of those bills were sponsored by Representative Lamar Smith, an opponent of EPA protections, who stated at his “Making EPA Great Again” hearing on February 7, 2017, that the EPA issued “expensive, expansive, and ineffective” regulations  and argued that the agency had “relied on questionable science based on nonpublic  information that could not be reproduced, a basic requirement of the scientific method.”

The HONEST Act requires the agency to use only publicly available data to support regulatory actions. It also requires that the data used be “transparent” and “reproducible.” The Act appears to run counter to the precautionary principle for 30 years adopted as a key principle behind sustainable development. The precautionary principle for action is that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, full scientific certainty is not needed before trying to prevent environmental degradation. Climate change has become enmeshed in adoption of this principle as the threats are irreversible but modelling cannot provide full certainty. With the passing of the HONEST Act the EPA’s wings would be clipped.








One comment

  1. Bart Meehan · · Reply

    Unfortunately this reflects the new reality . Climate change is no longer about science. It’s an issue that defines political position, along with a cache of other social issues. The white noise around it drowns out sensible discussion and dismisses the precautionary principle as left wing appeasement.

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