Monday, April 10, 2017

Congress Is Not Being Honest With The Public By Passing The HONEST Act?

Ignoring the President Trump's roll back or repeal of the Obama administration's advances to incorporate science into policy making when science should weigh in, the 115th Congress has chosen to follow the Trump administration's push toward devaluing science in regard to your (the public and world at large) health.  Below is an example (of legislation in play) which all of us should be aware of in regard to how science plays a role in policy making.  As history unfolds, you can be the judge of the consequence or lack thereof which these decisions play into the future of our world.

Your Health Does Not Matter!

The introduction might have sounded a little bleak at first read.  And partly this is the case with the repeal of the Obama administration's incorporation of science into policy making.  After President Trump was sworn into office, he started immediately devaluing the role which science could play into policy making which is a dangerous idea.  Why?  I will get to that later in the post.

First and foremost, Congress convened and used the momentum of the new administration to repeal the "Clean Power Plan" by Executive Order through President Trump.  So what - you might be thinking?  Well, the motivation by President Trump and the Republicans in Congress was to reduce 'unnecessary restrictions' on the coal industry in the overall effort to put coal miners back to work.  Sounds great right?  Removing the Clean Power Plan allows coal companies to "blow up" the top of mountains to search for coal.  What is wrong with this?

Nothing except if the source of your drinking water is from the river below.  Can you think of any recent examples in history where the publics water supply was impacted by tainted river water?

How about the chemical spill into the Elk River in 2014?  Here is an excerpt from the "Wikipedia" page:

The Elk River chemical spill occurred on January 9, 2014 when crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) was released from a Freedom Industries facility into the Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha River, in Charleston in the U.S. state of West Virginia.
The chemical spill occurred upstream from the principal West Virginia American Water intake and treatment and distribution center. Following the spill, up to 300,000 residents within nine counties in the Charleston, West Virginia metropolitan area were without access to potable water. The areas affected were portions of Boone, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, and Roane counties and the Culloden area of Cabell County.
Crude MCHM is a chemical foam used to wash coal and remove impurities that contribute to pollution during combustion. The "do-not-use" advisory for drinking water from West Virginia American Water's system began to be gradually lifted by West Virginia state officials on January 13 based upon "priority zones."
On Tuesday, January 14, the company revealed that the tank, which leaked about 7,500 gallons into the ground by the Elk River, had also contained a mixture of glycol ethers known as PPH, with a similar function as MCHM.
The chemical spill was the third chemical accident to occur in the Kanawha River Valley within the last five years. On June 12, 2014 another spill of containment water occurred at the same site.[1]

The news surrounding this spill along with the tainted water in Flint (Michigan) occupied the airwaves for months only to vanish and leave us to forget the negative impact that businesses can have on the local water supply when proper regulations are not enforced.  Further, as mentioned in the excerpt above, the chemical was used to wash coal.

This could have been avoided had regulators from the local (state) analog (equivalent) of the Environmental Protection Agency -- in West Virginia called the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) enforced state law.  On a few occasions, members of the WVDEP were called to the site after reports surfaced of "odors" coming from the tanks.  After the indicident occurred and impacted over 300,000 residents, the WVDEP realized that greater action might have avoided such a catastrophe. Of course, after the incident the DEP also blamed through the popular news the EPA for a lack of finding violations over a number of years.

The take home message was that given better regulatory oversight (not less), the incident should have been avoided.

Of course, even with greater oversight, will regulators and local government choose the safe drinking water system.  The news coverage of the Flint (Michigan) water crisis has finally died down.  That does not make the regions drinking water any safer according to residents.  Furthermore, there is an even greater push to have more regulatory oversight from the federal government recently.  In an article titled "MICH. CONGRESSMAN ADVOCATES FOR UPDATES TO LEAD & COPPER RULE" the actions of a local politician are gaining traction:

Last week, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said the EPA needs to strengthen its Lead and Copper Rule in light of the water crisis in Flint, according to The Hill.
In a statement, Kildee said: "After what happened to my hometown of Flint, we must strengthen and update the Lead and Copper Rule to provide greater transparency for families. Updating this outdated rule will not only protect public health, it will restore public confidence in their water systems. We must learn from the failures of government that lead to the Flint water crisis to prevent a similar man-made emergency from happening elsewhere."

Lowering the acceptable levels of lead and copper in water amounts to stricter regulatory oversight of the water.  Having clean and safe water is not a compromise that is often distorted by partisan politics.  Each U.S. resident is entitled to access to safe drinking water.  Hopefully, the above bill will move to become a law for the entire United States.  If you are interested into a glimpse of water the U.S. will look like with little-to-no regulatory oversight for safe drinking water read my previous post.

The overall theme of the current administration (Presidential administration) seems to be centered around the deregulation of the federal government and its ability to regulate.  There are two main avenues by which to greatly impact the governments ability to regulate:

1) Change the narrative of the governments focus

2) Change the ability to consider scientific evidence into policy-making

President Trump started working through the first avenue early on during his campaign for the presidency.  Only after being sworn into office, did he actually participate in the second avenue.  How you might wonder does he achieve work through the second avenue?  Easy.  Early on (week 2) President Trump implemented a 'media freeze out' which restricted the flow of information from the federal agencies to the public.  I wrote about the meaning and potential impact of such a censure would be.

The goal of any President should not ever be to limit the dissemination of any scientific results.  We live in a democracy.  Therefore, the public should have access to the data (scientific results) which were funded by tax-payer money.  Sounds reasonable correct?

Furthermore, the data which was funded by the tax-payer should be available to the public and considered in any policy making decisions moving forward which impact the health of the environment and the citizens which occupy it (the world).  Having said this, recent actions by the Senate to pass the HONEST act have turned removed this possibility by a marked 180 degree shift.

HONEST act Is Not Honest!

If you were to speak to any staff member of Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), they would convince you that having public access to data involving policy making decision is critical.  Furthermore, scientific data should be open access all around.  I agree 100%.  Only if this was the TRUE nature of the HONEST ACT (H.R. 1430) then maybe the bill would have bipartisan support.

According to an article in the journal "New Scientist" titled "US bill restricts use of science in environmental policymaking" the HONEST Act would have the following negative impact:

Last week the US House of Representatives passed a bill, the HONEST Act, that would prevent the EPA from basing any of its regulations on science that is not publicly accessible – not just journal articles themselves, but all of the underlying data, models and computer code.
“The HONEST Act requires EPA to base new regulations on sound science that is publicly available, and not hidden from the American people,” said Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chair of the House science committee, who sponsored the bill, in a statement. “The days of ‘trust me’ science are over.”
“Allowing EPA’s data to be independently reviewed promotes sound science that will restore confidence in the EPA decision-making process,” said Smith.

The last statement by Representative Lamar Smith would lead you to believe that he is devoted to transparency.  That is not the case considering the ramifications of the prior two paragraphs.  Again, here is an excerpt highlighting the issue with confidential information:

While the EPA does make background data available when possible, there are situations where it is impractical or impossible to release that information. Many epidemiological studies must remain confidential because of their use of human subjects, and computer models and code are often protected by intellectual property rules.
The bill allows such data to be kept secret, but would also allow anyone who had signed a confidentiality agreement to access that data if protected information, such as subjects’ names, is redacted. Rosenberg says the amount of time and effort it would take to redact the information would be unnecessarily burdensome.
Also, for research on humans it’s often not that difficult to reidentify people even after data has been anonymised. And in most cases, the EPA does not own the data, so it’s not theirs to give out. Many researchers and companies would likely refuse to hand it over if asked, so it becomes impossible for the EPA to use this data.

The proposed changes to redact the confidential information does not make any sense at all.  Congress has worked around making policy off of patient information for decades.  The bill was clever since removing the "confidential information" wipes out scientists ability to argue that a "risk factor" tied to "air pollution" exists even though this has been proven and is accepted within the scientific and medical community (listen to the podcast titled "Lead and the developing brain with Dr. Bruce Lanphear).   I wrote a recent blog in which the former Governor of California - Arnold Schwarzenegger describes the negative impacts on health of air pollution.  Having this medical information discarded or invalidated due to not being made available to the public is outrageous.

The intentions of Lamar Smith are unethical and truly outrageous.  Unfortunately, his actions are not isolated among his peers and others within the Congress and the Trump Administration.  President Trump's nominee (now director) of the Environmental Protection Agency has made his debut with the HONEST Act.  Recently, in an article titled "EPA Leaders Trashed Staff Comments Critical of Data Overhaul Bill: Officials" the author writes about the leadership (i.e. director, etc.) role in the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to disregard data from concerned veteran employees toward the bill:

The legislation (H.R.1430), which passed the House March 29 with only three Democrats in support, would require all research used in agency actions to be made public. The staff comments decried the bill, arguing it would cost the agency at least $250 million a year while threatening agency know-how and jeopardizing personal and confidential business information. Those current officials, along with a former career official, said they have never witnessed such a dramatic contradiction between staff-crafted comments and the official evaluation passed onto the budget office.
‘Complete Disregard’
“This is a complete disregard,” said an agency official who helped write the comments. But “it’s consistent with everything else we’ve seen. Basically all the actions of our organization are being curtailed from every direction. This is just another piece of that, and it doesn’t take a big step to connect those dots.”
An email obtained by Bloomberg BNA illustrated the inner-workings.
“The administrator’s office decided not to send our responses forward,” the email said. "[The Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations] fought for the points we made, but [the administrator’s office] ultimately decided to send a response back to [the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)] that said no cost, no comment.” Bloomberg BNA is not publishing the email to safeguard the identities of those involved.

The director of the Environmental Protection Agency disregarding expert opinion on a bill which would hamper the ability to regulate according to scientific results.  WOW!  Unbelievable.  What is believable from these articles is that President Trump is making good on his word to put into positions of authority figures who would advance his agenda.  Which equates to destroying the ability to consider scientific results from policy-making.  This of course led to many law-makers on capital hill to vote "no" for the nomination of Scott Pruitt -- even a republican senator -- read here.  Unfortunately, that was not enough to stop the nomination and now we are left to deal with the aftermath of President Trump's unqualified nomination to the EPA.


As of this writing, the HONEST Act bill has passed through the House.  You can track the progress by clicking here.  The first step toward making sure that science data is considered into policy making is to understand how it is not being considered as through the use of the HONEST Act.  The second step toward restoring the validity of scientific data is through promoting science.  One avenue by which any citizen can do this is by writing your congressional representative.  In a post earlier this year, I show how to write a representative along with the reply from them displaying their position on the issue at hand.  If each of us participate to the fullest in democracy, then democracy will pay dividends -- meaning the process will pay off tremendously.  Part of that participation is by educating ourselves on current issues and then tracking how our political (elected) representatives are making decisions on our behalf.  With that in mind, I hope that your educational journey will continue and you will continue to fight the injustices like passing the HONEST Act to keep our world a safer and healthier place to live in.

Until next time, have a great day!!

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