By Reid Davenport
Should the government have to provide the data underlying a scientific report that it has used to support a regulation? Or would increasing the required burden of proof moot policymaking and expose participants’ private data?
Environmental Protection Agency regulations have brought this issue from the abstract to the halls of Congress, where lawmakers and academics have debated the issue over the past several months.
Last week, Republican lawmakers, backed by some scientists, demanded that EPA make available to the public all of the data used to justify its regulations. Democrats, with their own scientific supporters in tow, argued that requiring the release of such data would undercut EPA’s ability to use outside research to inform its work.
“The Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 is a result of more than two years of investigative work on the part of the Science, Space and Technology Committee,” Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the panel’s chairman, said at a Feb. 11 hearing. “This work was initiated when the Environmental Protection Agency failed to live up to its public commitment to make the data that supports its most costly air regulations available to the public.”
The House Subcommittee on Environment heard from witnesses in the science and small business communities on the legislation — introduced by subcommittee Chairman David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) — which would require that the data EPA uses to create regulations be made publicly available.
John Graham, dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and a former senior administrator at the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, told the panel that the bill would hold EPA more accountable.
“Publicly accessible data is increasingly the norm in all fields of science unless … disclosure is illegal (e.g., due to confidentiality safeguards or confidential business information),” Graham told FCW in an email. “There is no reason that environmental research should be less public than other forms of science.”
“The bill simply codifed what OMB already requires agencies to do under the Information Quality [Act of 2001],” he said. “It is a sensible bill. I don’t think the sky will start falling at EPA if this bill passes. EPA will simply be more open than they have been in the past.”