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Target Practice With EPA

Congress: House passes bills to limit regulations; panel issues subpoena

by Cheryl Hogue
August 8, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 32

Credit: House Science, Space, & Technology Democrats
House Science Committee Chairman Smith with documents previously provided by EPA.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee, with a stack of documents from EPA in the foreground.
Credit: House Science, Space, & Technology Democrats
House Science Committee Chairman Smith with documents previously provided by EPA.

Training its sights on a favorite mark, the Republican-led House of Representatives in early August fired at the Environmental Protection Agency. In one salvo, the House passed two bills that would stymie EPA’s ability to regulate. In another shot, the House Science, Space & Technology Committee took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena for key data that EPA relies on to justify air pollution regulations. The actions came just before lawmakers left Washington, D.C., for a five-week recess.

One of the bills to pass is H.R. 1582, which would give the Department of Energy veto power over energy-related EPA regulations that cost more than $1 billion to implement. The legislation would chiefly affect future air pollution rules, including efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions. The 232-181 vote was largely along party lines. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who introduced the measure, says it would protect consumers from increases in energy prices that result from EPA regulations.

The second bill to pass the House is H.R. 367, which would require the Senate and House to approve any major regulation—defined as those with annual economic impact of $100 million or more—before it could take effect. Many EPA regulations hit that metric.

Both bills are likely to be dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate, says Katie Greenhaw, an analyst with the Center for Effective Government, a public interest group that monitors federal regulatory policy. House Republicans passed the measures to demonstrate their antiregulatory credentials to their supporters, she tells C&EN. The White House has threatened to veto both bills should they reach the President’s desk.

Finally, the House Science Committee, in a party-line vote, issued its first subpoena in 21 years—to EPA. The move requires the agency to turn over ­confidential data from two long-term studies of the health effects of particulate matter air pollution—which committee Chairman Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas) calls “secret science.” EPA uses the information to quantify the health benefits of rules that control air pollution.

In a recent letter to Smith, the agency says it has already provided the committee with all the data from the studies that are in its possession. The rest of the data—including confidential health information from individual participants—is controlled by either the American Cancer Society or Harvard University, each of which conducted one of the studies.

Making this data public “is a true invasion of people’s privacy and has a chilling effect on getting people to participate in studies,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science & Democracy. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the top Democrat on the Science Committee, accuses Smith of using congressional power to harass EPA.



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