EPA's Pruitt wants open, accountable science

  • 5 May 2018
  • NormanL
EPA's Pruitt wants open, accountable science

EPA director Scott Pruitt has driven the left crazy with his desire to slow down, and in some cases reverse, the Obama-era environmentalist agenda. And while Pruitt has his flaws, one thing he is doing very well in pushing for accountability at the EPA.

And that includes using science that can be verified, and is made public. This policy direction, perhaps more than any other, has sent the green lobby into a tizzy. But there are very good reasons why making the science public should be the EPA's goal, and official policy:

Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told Mr. Pruitt during the hearing that the attacks on him “have an echo of McCarthyism.” That is using his, possibly misguided but trivial infractions, as a club to extort a change in his policies. Rules, regulations and laws can be used for nefarious ends.

We see in the March 16, 2018 Scientific American that Scott “Pruitt Expected to Limit Science Used to Make EPA Pollution Rules.” OMG, those darned knuckle-dragging, anti-science Republicans are at it again! Denying science and polluting the environment. What horrors are they contemplating now?

A little farther in we read this:

“[Pruitt’s] initiative is expected to require EPA—when issuing rules—to rely only on scientific studies where the underlying data are made public. It’s an idea that House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has been championing for years. He and others argue that EPA has been crafting regulations based on “secret science” to advance its regulatory agenda.” (Waldman and Bravender 2018)

Lamar Smith’s “HONEST” act “requires that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations be based upon science that is publicly available” according to the House committee of Science, Space and Technology here. The acronym HONEST stands for “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment.” Under the act (which has passed the House, but not the Senate), if the EPA is going to restrict someone’s private property rights for the “greater good” they must release all the data and analysis used to justify the regulations. Just as, in court before a person is sent to jail or fined, they can examine all the evidence against them. Lamar Smith and Scott Pruitt simply want people to see the data and evidence used to create the regulations that restrict their private property rights. They are not “limiting the science used,” they are just insisting on full public disclosure of the data and analysis. How is this unreasonable? 

It's "unresonable" because it can be checked and re-checked by the wider public (scientists and laymen alike). That kind of public accountability is anathema to the green movement, which tends toward street theater and brow-beating to accomplish its aims.

But there are more fundamental considerations backing Pruitt's transparency push:

The U.S. Constitution contains many protections for private property. Article I, section 8 secures intellectual property. Sections 9 and 10 prohibit states and the federal government from passing ex post facto laws that change existing contracts. The fifth amendment prohibits the taking of property by the government without just compensation. The second amendment prohibits confiscation of arms, the third prohibits forced quartering of troops in private homes, and the fourth and fourteenth forbid unreasonable searches and seizures of private property. These protections of private property rights were all in response to common actions by the British prior to U.S. independence.

The EPA has skirted the edge of these Constitutional prohibitions many times, have they gone over the edge? The EPA writes regulations on its own, under the President’s authority, without other oversight. The regulations have to be rooted in a Congressional statute, but the statutes are only interpreted by the EPA. This has allowed regulatory excesses like the CO2 “endangerment” finding.  This gives the agency great power. There are many modern ways to restrict private property rights. These include building codes, rent controls, zoning, usury laws, price controls, blue laws, gun controls, etc. Environmental regulations can be the most egregious. The restrictions and regulations can be so burdensome that the land is rendered useless and effectively taken away. This was at the root of complaints against the Waters of the U.S. Act and other environmental and land-use regulations.

Are there instances when governments can curtail private property rights in defense of the public good? Yes, there are. You probably wouldn't appreciate companies dumping toxic waste in your neighbor's ad hoc landfill, just as you hope someone is ensuring the water from the tap won't give you cholera. The environment serves us all, and thus should be protected in some manner through regulation. We can argue who the regulator should be, but no serious person will say no regulation is the best option.

But willy-nilly government takings are not an option, either. If governing authorities can show just cause, backed with evidence that can be publicly evaluated for its honesty and accuracy, we're good. Taking property or restraining private rights on a "need to know" basis, however, is simply wrong.