Witnesses Agree: Data Used in EPA Regulatory Decisions Should be Made Publicly Available

Feb 3, 2012
Witnesses Agree: Data Used in EPA Regulatory Decisions Should be Made Publicly Available

Washington D.C. – Today the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held the second day of a hearing, initially convened on November 30, 2011, to receive testimony on external perspectives on the need to reauthorize and reform science, and research and development (R&D) activities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

“We have held nearly a dozen oversight hearings on specific EPA issues during this Congress, and we have seen patterns of behavior that suggest the need for significant reforms,” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD).

Witnesses repeatedly emphasized the need for greater transparency of scientific data and research results.  Dr. Stanley Young, Assistant Director for Bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, said “On publication of a paper, where research is funded by the EPA, the data should be made public.  When the EPA proposes a regulation based on science, it should name the papers it is depending on and it should make data sets used in those papers publicly available.”  Dr. Young said that by increasing transparency, “Claims are more likely to be valid and the resulting policy sensible.  Let normal science help in the vetting process.  Make the data available.”

Mr. Daniel Greenbaum, President and CEO of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), agreed and noted that “From its inception HEI has sought to produce its work with the widest degree of disclosure of results and underlying data.”  Greenbaum said that such disclosure “is critical to ensuring that all results – both positive and negative – are reported, and that the broader science community can fully access, and further analyze, the results and data.”

Emphasizing the shortcomings in current approaches to risk assessment at EPA, Mr. Michael Walls, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council, said “At the heart of the problem in the Federal government’s processes for assessing risks to environment and human health is the lack of a consistent, coherent, science-based framework that binds the agencies to an appropriate and transparent approach for weighing evidence, considering uncertainty, and keeping up with advances in the field.”

Mr. Walls said that “The processes for considering scientific information and data and the standards and criteria used in risk assessment need to be modernized and streamlined to meet both today’s needs and greater challenges of the future.”

Dr. Richard Belzer, President of Regulatory Checkbook, added to the criticisms of EPA risk assessment practices.  Dr. Belzer said that “EPA risk assessors and other staff have scientized policy and politicized science. They have scientized policy by claiming that science can answer questions that science can inform, but not decide. They have politicized science by choosing not to estimate risk accurately.”  Belzer continued, “By scientizing policy, Agency risk assessors and other staff have taken away from Agency officials the authority and responsibility, delegated by Congress, to make policy decisions. They take away from policy officials alternatives that are well within the range of plausible interpretations of their statutory directives.”

The following witnesses testified at today’s hearing:

Mr. Daniel Greenbaum, President and Chief Executive Officer, Health Effects Institute
Dr. Deborah Swackhamer, Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota, and Chairwoman, EPA Science Advisory Board
Mr. Michael Walls, Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs, American Chemistry Council
Dr. Richard Belzer, President, Regulatory Checkbook
Dr. Jerald Schnoor, Allen S. Henry Chair in Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa
Dr. S. Stanley Young, Assistant Director for Bioinformatics, National Institute of Statistical Sciences