Republican Attacks on the EPA and the Environment Continue

Last week was a tough one for science and the environment. The House passed two bills that will make it more difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to incorporate good science in its rulemaking:

  1. The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment ("HONEST") Act (passed March 29) would prevent the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating any guidance or regulation unless all of the underlying technical data is publicly available and reproducible--a standard that is crafted to sound reasonable but is designed to place an undue burden on scientists and the EPA to slow down the regulatory process.
  2. The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (passed March 30) would allow industry representatives--even those with financial conflicts of interest--to serve on the body that provides scientific advice to the EPA, but would prevent non-industry scientists (i.e. academic researchers) from serving if they have a grant from the EPA (and would prevent them from applying for a grant 3 years following service on the Scientific Advisory Board).

These bills were passed largely along party lines, with a handful of Democrats voting yes and a few Republicans voting no, mostly members of the Climate Solutions Caucus from New York and Florida. Both bills must now pass the Senate before becoming law. As Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists said, "These bills aren't just an attack on the integrity of scientists. They are an attack on the popular, long-standing laws that are supposed to keep Americans safe and healthy. There's no 'reform' here. What these bills would really do is make the EPA powerless to carry out the job it's supposed to do—using science to protect public health and the environment."

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology continued its denial of climate science by holding a hearing last Wednesday, March 29, on "Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method" and by Tweeting out a Breitbart article about a non-existent drop in global temperatures. The full video of the hearing is available here. Although committee chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) opened the hearing stating that "climate is changing, and humans play a role," he followed up by proclaiming that "I also believe that significant questions remain as to the extent." These statements set the tone of the hearing, in which the Democrats' witness, Dr. Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist and the creator of the well-known hockey stick figure showing a steep rise in global temperatures, defended science, climate research, and the factual basis of human-caused global warming. The other three witnesses, invited by the Republican side of the committee, highlighted perceived uncertainties and biases in climate science, and purported inconsistencies in climate and weather projections in global warming research. The hearing became focused on whether humans were causing more or less than 50% of global warming. Mann cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that the chance that humans are causing less than half of the global warming is less than 1 in 10,000, while the other panelists stated that they could not agree on how much of global warming is attributed to humans versus natural causes. All panelists did, however, agree that the Trump Administration's deep proposed cuts to science and research should be avoided.

President Trump appeared with department secretaries Rick Perry (Energy) and Ryan Zinke (Interior) and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt at the EPA on Tuesday, March 28, to sign an Executive Order rolling back Obama era policies on climate change. The centerpiece of the EO directs the EPA to rewrite a 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. The EO also removes a requirement to factor the social cost of carbon into policymaking decisions, removes the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions (the NEPA process, which is used especially in approvals of large infrastructure projects), and lifts a moratorium on federal coal leasing. The order does not address the Paris climate agreement or the endangerment finding--the 2007 court decision that provides the basis for the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide as air pollution. Governors and mayors immediately spoke out against the statement. "Gutting the Clean Power Plan is a colossal mistake, and defies science itself," California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Brown said. "Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump's mind, but nowhere else." Technology companies including Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft also stated their support for Obama's policies.

You can see a running list of how the Trump administration is changing environmental policy here.

ISP Privacy Rule Eliminated, Net Neutrality Next

In a huge blow to consumer privacy, the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to eliminate Obama-era privacy rules meant to protect Americans from invasive surveillance by internet service providers (ISPs). The vote was conducted using the Congressional Review Act, making it more difficult for similar rules to be introduced in the future. The privacy rules had required that ISPs give consumers meaningful notice about privacy surveillance and the ability to opt into providing their data to the ISP before providers could share or sell their data.

On Thursday, the Trump administration signalled that its next target will be eliminating Obama-era rules on net neutrality. These rules classified ISPs as common carriers and prevented them from dividing the internet into fast lanes, for content providers willing to pay a higher fee for their content, and slow lanes for all other content.

Trump Science and Technology Posts Remain Unfilled

As we have mentioned in previous weeks, the Trump administration has been slow to fill key science and technology posts, a trend that continued last week and shows no signs of changing. This is a dangerous oversight, given that so many of the key issues facing our nation involve science or technology. Related to this, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was, for the first time, unable to find a representative of the current administration to speak at its annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy, held last week.

Trump Pushes to Cut Science Budgets in FY17

Due to congressional Republicans' inability to pass a budget for FY2017, the government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires on April 28 (leading to worries about a possible government shutdown). In addition to the deep cuts to scientific programs that President Trump has proposed for FY2018, it was revealed last week that Trump is pushing Congress to implement many of these cuts in the current year as well. The full list of proposed FY2017 cuts, which include cutting $1.23 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $350 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), $300 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and $247 million from EPA, can be seen here. The administration's insistence on cutting support for science even in the current year is a very worrying sign, and it betrays a deep lack of understanding of the long-term value of investing in American science and technology.

What You Can Do

  • The April congressional recess is coming up very soon (April 10-21). Click here to find a town hall--and if your member of Congress isn't having, one ask them why. Ask your congressional representatives their opinion on Trump's environmental actions and let them know that you want them to vote for strong support for scientific programming.
  • Thank the Republican representatives who joined Democrats in voting NO on the "HONEST" Act: Ryan Costello (PA), Carlos Curbelo (FL), John Faso (NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Mark Sanford (SC), and Elise Stefanik (NY).
  • The "HONEST" Act and the Science Advisory Board Reform Act (see above) are now in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Is your senator on the committee? If so please contact them and let them know these two acts cannot become law. See the list of committee members here.
  • Ask your representative to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which will explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate. The caucus was founded in February of 2016 by two south-Florida representatives, Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), who serve as co-chairs of the caucus.
  • Joseph Kopser, an aerospace scientist, tech company CEO and former Army Ranger, is considering a run for Congress Texas' 21st District, the seat currently held by Republican Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee. Consider pledging your support here.

- Science & Technology Policy Working Group, RISE Stronger

Have comments or something to add? Contact the RISE Science & Technology Policy Working Group at [email protected]