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US House passes bills to reform EPA scientific process

Responding to criticism of the U.S. EPA's rules on climate change and other issues, the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved two bills that seek to make the agency's scientific process more transparent and allow more industry participation on its independent review board.

Dubbed the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017, H.R. 1430 passed the House along party lines by 228-194 on March 29. The HONEST act aims to give "independent scientists a fair chance to validate the studies EPA uses to make new regulations," according to a release from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where the legislation originated.

H.R. 1430 would prevent the EPA from proposing, finalizing or disseminating new rules, guidance or other policy action unless all scientific and technical information relied upon for those actions represents the "best available science" and is made publicly available online. Those disclosures would exclude personally identifiable and confidential information, but individuals still could obtain that redacted info if they sign a confidentiality agreement.

Critics of the HONEST Act said the bill's disclosure requirements will make creating needed environmental reforms more difficult.

"The bill contains favorable exemptions for industry and would restrict the health studies that the EPA is able to use by requiring that data is shared with anyone willing to sign a vague confidentiality agreement," the League of Conservation Voters said.

On March 30, the House also passed H.R. 1431, or the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017, by 229-193. That bill, which was introduced by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Frank Lucas, R-Okla., would require at least 10% of the members on EPA's independent scientific advisory board to come from state, local or tribal governments. The bill also would allow individuals to join the board even if they are affiliated with entities, including companies, that are affected by EPA action, so long as those ties are fully disclosed to the EPA and public.

H.R. 1431 further would prohibit lobbyists from joining the board and prevent board members from having current grants or contracts from EPA or from applying for such grants or contracts for three years after the end of their terms.

Despite making it through the House, the bills face weak odds of passage by the U.S. Senate. The GOP's 52-seat majority in the Senate is too narrow to overcome a likely filibuster from Democrats, and moderate Republicans also may oppose the legislation.

The HONEST Act and review board bill are part of a battle by Smith and other GOP lawmakers against Obama-era EPA regulations and practices. The Texas congressman, who chairs the House science committee, frequently has criticized the scientific support for recent EPA regulations, particularly those related to climate change. At a December 2016 event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Smith said he submitted a record 25 subpoenas to the EPA during the Obama administration and called the science behind the agency's climate rules "suspect," in part because the EPA never responded to his subpoenas on those regulations.