Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy pushed back April 28 against what she described as “manufactured” attempts from individuals with political or business motivations to undermine scientific work undertaken by the agency and scientific bodies.
McCarthy, speaking at the National Academy of Sciences annual meeting, also said there had been attempts to “manufacture uncertainties” surrounding the science behind climate change in an effort to halt attempts to address it. She described denial of the realities of climate change and not taking action to address it as the “biggest dangers of all.”
“People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts,” McCarthy said. “You can't just claim the science isn't real when it doesn't align well with your political or financial interests. Science is real and verifiable.”
Agency resources are also being forced to “spend precious time and taxpayer money” defending sound scientific work instead of pursuing other priorities, McCarthy said.
Allegations Frequently Raised
Allegations of “secret,” not sufficiently peer-reviewed and not sufficiently transparent science have frequently been raised to McCarthy since she became EPA administrator in July 2013. Republicans, led by Sen. David Vitter (La.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), chairman of House Science, Space and Technology Committee, have raised questions about how the EPA conducts scientific research and how that research is used to justify rulemakings.
During McCarthy's confirmation hearing in 2013, Vitter received commitments from the agency to adopt guidance allowing the removal of personal information from health studies and to begin a process of releasing scientific data from Clean Air Act rulemakings for independent analysis and verification.
The EPA has largely refrained from responding to the Republican attacks on its scientific practices until now, but McCarthy called them “empty allegations” and said it was “worrisome” that a small group of critics was constantly criticizing the scientific basis of EPA regulations.
“If EPA is being accused of secret science because we rely on real scientists to conduct research, and independent scientists to peer-review it, and scientists who've spent a lifetime studying the science to reproduce it— then so be it,” McCarthy said. “Those critics keep launching empty allegations at the work of experts without regard for the damage left behind.”
McCarthy highlighted the example of a recent Office of Inspector General report. The April 2 report concluded the agency received appropriate approval to conduct its studies, appropriate consent from the human subjects who were exposed to concentrated airborne particles or diesel exhaust emission and sufficiently addressed negative events during the study, but could strengthen and update its procedures for human subject testing.
Republicans pounced on those inspector general findings as evidence of deficient scientific transparency in the agency.
“When justifying a job-killing regulation, EPA argues exposure to particulate matter is deadly, but when they are conducting experiments, they say human exposure studies are not harmful,” Vitter said in a statement. “This is a prime example of how EPA handpicks what scientific information and uncertainties they use to support their overreaching agenda.”
McCarthy said the scientists in that experiment had been threatened, suffered property damage, risked the shutdown of their facilities and were “publicly vilified,” despite the fact they complied with existing rules while doing their jobs.
“My guess is that those critics that distrust the most trustworthy institutions—and vilify the work of reputable scientists and EPA—are not trying to provide scientific clarity,” McCarthy said. “My guess is that they're looking to cloud the science with uncertainty to keep EPA from doing the very job that Congress gave us to do.”
Ignoring ‘Big Picture.'
Vitter slammed McCarthy's speech for ignoring the “big-picture” congressional concerns about how the agency conducts scientific research and ensures adequate transparency of its findings.
“EPA's leadership is willfully ignoring the big picture and defending EPA's practices of using science that is, in fact, secret due to the refusal of the Agency to share the underlying data with Congress and the American public,” Vitter said in an April 28 statement. “We're not asking, and we've never asked, for personal health information, and it is inexcusable for EPA to justify billions of dollars of economically significant regulations on science that is kept hidden from independent reanalysis and congressional oversight.”
In a separate statement, Smith largely echoed the concerns expressed by Vitter.
“It's disappointing that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy continues to try to justify her agency's use of secret science,” Smith said. “Relying on undisclosed data is not good science and not good policy.”
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee plans to consider the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012) “in the coming weeks,” according to Smith. That legislation would prevent the EPA from proposing regulations based on data that had not been released publicly.
Concerns on Climate Science
McCarthy said sound scientific work showed the need to act on climate change and said concern about the changes in the climate were “not the product of conspiracies or political agendas.”
President Barack Obama announced his plan to address climate change in June 2013. One of the centerpieces of the plan was regulations from the EPA on carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing power plants.
The EPA is scheduled to release proposed carbon pollution regulations for existing power plants in June, and McCarthy told the National Academy of Sciences the agency would deliver on its portion of the climate action plan “without fail.”