In a speech filled with more straw men than a corn field in the fall, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy fired back at critics, like the U.S. Chamber, who have called out the agency for its lack of transparency and openness involving scientific data and analysis that it uses to impose costly air pollutions regulations on the economy.
The debate stems around access to data on the health effects of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) on humans. While EPA and researchers have blocked public access to the data, the agency has used it to justify nearly all (98%) of the benefits of EPA air regulations between 2002 and 2012.
“People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. You can't just claim the science isn't real when it doesn't align well with your political or financial interests,” McCarthy said to the National Academy of Sciences, “Science is real and verifiable.”
See what I mean about straw men?
No one disagrees with any of this. What EPA critics want is public access to the data in order to scrutinize, verify, and reproduce the conclusions.
For instance, William Kovacs notes a major problem with the data:
The studies used to support the 1997 PM2.5 standard have never been independently reproduced or validated, and EPA has successfully resisted all attempts – including a 2000 Freedom of Information Act request from the U.S. Chamber – to obtain the data underlying the studies upon which EPA based its standards.
Nevertheless, in her speech to the Academy, McCarthy reaffirmed her agency's refusal to make the data available to public scrutiny.
Science is an iterative process. It builds on previous work and assumes that no one has all the answers. EPA shouldn’t be afraid to open the data to public inspection.
This is especially important when regulators use this data to impose tremendous costs on the economy—especially in electricity generation--keep jobs from being created, and hold back investments. The public should be able to see the data and not merely take the word of a federal agency.
Despite McCarthy's claim that EPA critics are attacking science itself, by advocating for openness and transparency we’re defending the scientific process that’s delivered progress to humanity for centuries.
“When we follow the science -- we all win,” McCarthy told the audience, and she’s right. However, that requires that the data be open so the public can examine it.
Follow Sean Hackbarth on Twitter at @seanhackbarth and the U.S. Chamber at @uschamber.