House Republicans Question EPA ‘Secret Science’

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy faced GOP questions Thursday over her agency's use of science to back up its regulations.
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Nov. 14, 2013, 9:28 a.m.

The head of the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency played reg­u­la­tion whack-a-mole Thursday on Cap­it­ol Hill, as Re­pub­lic­ans on the House Sci­ence Com­mit­tee spent the morn­ing pop­ping cred­ib­il­ity ques­tions about each of their least fa­vor­ite reg­u­la­tions.

Gina Mc­Carthy had been called to testi­fy about GOP charges that the EPA uses “secret sci­ence” to jus­ti­fy its reg­u­la­tions and fails to bal­ance eco­nom­ic costs with en­vir­on­ment­al be­ne­fits.

Sci­ence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wanted an­swers about a leaked pro­pos­al that would give the agency ex­pan­ded jur­is­dic­tion over wa­ter­ways. Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis., ques­tioned eth­an­ol man­dates un­der the re­new­able-fuel stand­ard, con­tend­ing el­ev­ated levels of the bio­fuel in gas­ol­ine would dam­age en­gines. Rep. Ral­ph Hall, R-Texas, quizzed Mc­Carthy on hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing, twice ac­cused her of fili­bus­ter­ing and, ex­as­per­ated, said: “Maybe I can’t un­der­stand any­thing you say be­cause you’re hard to be­lieve, ma’am.”

Rep. Randy Neuge­bauer, R-Texas, chal­lenged Mc­Carthy’s con­ten­tion that car­bon cap­ture and se­quest­ra­tion tech­no­logy for coal-fired power plants is near com­mer­cial read­i­ness. Rep. Randy Hult­gren, R-Ill., took is­sue with a rule that re­quires util­it­ies to im­prove aquat­ic-life pro­tec­tions on in­take equip­ment. Smith asked an­oth­er ques­tion on ozone stand­ards.

Mc­Carthy countered that “sci­ence is the back­bone of our de­cision-mak­ing” and praised the peer re­view and pub­lic dis­clos­ure meth­ods used by the agency. “I’m in­cred­ibly proud of the sci­ence this agency re­lies on,” she said.

She de­fen­ded each of the reg­u­la­tions chal­lenged by law­makers as well as the sci­entif­ic pro­cess EPA used to de­vel­op them.

But Re­pub­lic­ans would have none of it. Rep. Dana Rohra­bach­er, R-Cal­if., ac­cused the agency of cre­at­ing a “closed loop” that drafts sweep­ing reg­u­la­tions and then rigs sci­entif­ic find­ings to jus­ti­fy them. And while most of the GOP com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned the sci­ence be­hind the reg­u­la­tions, one ques­tioned its use­ful­ness in the first place. “Does sci­ence ever change or get proven wrong?” asked Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, show­ing little sur­prise when Mc­Carthy answered in the af­firm­at­ive.

As the hear­ing went on, ques­tions strayed in­to some more un­usu­al sub­ject mat­ter, as evid­enced on Twit­ter.

Rep. Massie just asked Mc­Carthy if she is look­ing to reg­u­late the meth­ane emis­sions from cows — what hap­pens when hear­ings go too long.

— Laura Bar­ron-Lopez (@lbar­ron­lopez) Novem­ber 14, 2013

Gina Mc­Carthy tells House com­mit­tee EPA not ex­plor­ing reg­u­lat­ing meth­ane emis­sions from cow flat­u­lence.

— Jason Plautz (@Jason_­Plautz) Novem­ber 14, 2013

Now @Gin­aE­PA be­ing asked at House Sci­ence hear­ing how many ice ages there have been. #Con­gress

— Dar­ren Goode (@Dar­ren­Goode) Novem­ber 14, 2013

Mc­Carthy was giv­en the oc­ca­sion­al re­prieve when some Demo­crats offered up their ques­tions. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Cal­if., asked her to talk about how EPA rules have cre­ated jobs. Rep. Donna Ed­wards, D-Md., wondered about doc­u­ment­a­tion of cli­mate change. “We have a wealth of data that is more than suf­fi­cient,” Mc­Carthy said. “Great!” Ed­wards replied.

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