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Lamar Smith Could Make Scientific Research More Difficult for EPA

Representative Lamar Smith must be licking his chops with anticipation at the prospect of the HONEST Act becoming law.
Representative Lamar Smith must be licking his chops with anticipation at the prospect of the HONEST Act becoming law.
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Representative Lamar Smith, the San Antonio Republican who has been waging a battle against climate change science since becoming chairman of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, may finally get his wish to make it all but impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to do the scientific work needed to actually protect the environment.

That's right, Smith is moving along with his plan to improve the EPA under President Donald Trump with the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017.

The bill, also known as the HONEST Act, is purportedly aimed at making government-funded scientific research more transparent. But in reality the proposed legislation, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, will probably only make scientific research so much more expensive that the EPA simply won't be able to fund as many studies.

This isn't Smith's first attempt to get this bill through. Back in 2014, he trotted out the Secret Science Reform Act, a remarkably similar bill that ostensibly aimed to "increase transparency" in science, which is just a nice way of saying he was gunning to rip away the veil of privacy over scientific research by opening government-funded scientific studies up to judicial review, as we've noted before.

The Congressional Budget Office reviewed the proposed legislation, and found that implementing the bill would increase the cost of scientific studies between $10,000 and $50,000 per study for the EPA. Since the bill would be applied to roughly 50,000 studies conducted by the federal agency to assess risk, regulate, establish agency guidelines and various other agency activities, it would cost about $250 million annually for the first few years at least to conduct these studies according to the proposed legislation.

The Congressional Budget Office recommended that the EPA simply scale back its activities, proposing that the “EPA could instead rely on significantly fewer studies each year in support of its mission, and limit its spending on data collection and database construction activities.”

This idea jibed with Smith's vision — the Secret Science Bill only provided a $1 million budget to help the EPA increase transparency in its research.

However, at that point President Barack Obama had already vowed to veto the bill if it came across his desk, so there wasn't much of a chance that it would actually become law.

But this time around, with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress, the odds are much higher that the new version of the Honest Act will actually become law. Now, the EPA isn't exactly just rolling along as of right now. Scott Pruitt, the new head of the agency, made headlines this week for rejecting science and using pesticides anyway.

But while it's looking increasingly likely the EPA won't be doing a ton of environmental regulating anyway under the Trump administration, if the HONEST Act actually becomes law, it will all but guarantee that the EPA will only be conducting a sliver of the scientific research that measures the impact of those regulations.

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