Saving Secret Science

By Steven Milloy and Michael Gough
May 24, 1999, New York Post

Rep. James Walsh, an upstate Republican, apparently wants New Yorkers to spend billions of dollars annually based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “secret science.”

In 1996, the EPA proposed new, more stringent national air-quality standards, estimated to cost New Yorkers as much as $3.3 billion annually and a loss of 10,000 jobs.

The EPA’s justification? It claimed the rules would save 15,000 American lives per year.

But that claim was based on a single scientific study (the “Pope study”). And that study wasn’t published in (and therefore peer-reviewed via) a top-line journal such as the New England Journal of Medicine, but a journal of the American Lung Association – a group that gets millions in EPA grants and lobbied actively for the new air-quality regulations.

Only the EPA has ever seen the Pope study data – and when Congress requested the data for independent examination, the EPA refused. Under political pressure, it relented – and the researchers took up the stonewall.

They claimed proprietary right to the data – event though the study was paid for with taxpayer dollars, was being used to impose huge costs and was requested by a Congress hardly interested in going into the scientific research business.

The EPA then cavalierly disregarded all objections – from its own science advisers, Congress and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors – and imposed the new regulations.

Industry sued. Congress legislated.

A new law extends the Freedom of Information Act to cover taxpayer-funded studies which are used to justify federal regulations. This would prevent agencies from regulating on the basis of “secret science.”

Now Rep. Walsh is leading a charge to have this “sunshine in the government” law repealed: He’s set to present an amendment today to block the law.

The EPA is confident the “data access” law is doomed: It’s now using the Pope study to justify new rules covering gasoline’s sulfur content and sport-utility-vehicle tailpipe emissions.

The EPA claims the rules will cost $3.5 billion a year – to save up to 2,400 lives per year. Is that claim accurate? Who knows? The EPA continues to refuse access to the Pope study.

Fortunately for now, a federal court this month found the EPA’s air-quality standards to be unconstitutional. But the EPA is unlikely to give up. Assuming the agency can figure out a constitutional way of regulating, Rep. Walsh is helping ensure that the science won’t face public scrutiny.

Steven Milloy is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute. Michael Gough is a senior scientist with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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