July 28, 2014

Uncovering Secret Science

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Each year, federal agencies issue thousands of rules that increase costs and the amount of paperwork Americans must sift through to conduct business and meet federal requirements in a broad array of areas of our lives.  It is reasonable to expect the data used to craft federal rules to be sound, transparent and reproducible. 

Federal agencies issue rules spelling out specific requirements ranging from minor policy corrections and updates to rules that have large impacts on individuals, local governments and businesses across the nation.  Due to the volume of rules getting out of hand, Congress has sought to put tighter controls on the issuance of rules.  For example, Congress enacted laws requiring agencies to consider the paperwork burdens of the regulations being issued, explore flexibility options for rules expected to have significant impacts on small entities, and provide cost analyses when federal mandates may result in significant costs.   

Despite these measures, the pile of federal regulations continues to grow.  The non-partisan Congressional Research Service reports that the number of final rules published each year is generally in the range of 2,500-4,500.  According to data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in the four-year period from 2009 through 2012, more than 13,000 federal rules were issued.  Of these rules, 330 were considered "major" rules.  This means that these regulations are expected to have a $100 million or more effect on the economy; cause an increase in costs for consumers, individual industries or governments; or have significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity or innovation. 

These rules result in enormous costs and thousands of pages of far-reaching regulation.  The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy reportedthat the annual cost of federal regulations was estimated to have increased to more than $1.75 trillion in 2008.

I continually hear concerns from Idahoans about the damaging effects of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies issuing regulations that are not based on data demonstrating concrete benefits and cost-effectiveness.  For example, a north Idaho wood stove manufacturer is facing potential impacts from the EPA's efforts to revise performance standards for residential wood heaters, including wood burning and pellet stoves.  The agency cites improved technology and design as justification to propose new compliance standards.  These types of costly regulations can be damaging to small businesses and jobs while having the opposite effects of intent and actually slowing clean air progress, as consumers forgo investing in costly, new appliances that have no guarantee of improving air quality.  

Americans must have access to the science used to support these rules that have broad and lasting effects.  Unfortunately, the Administration continues to disregard the most basic tenets of science-transparency and reproducibility.  The EPA is using nonpublic data and undisclosed models when crafting major federal regulations.  This includes the data used for the recently proposed New Source Performance Standards for power plants and Clean Air Act regulations. 

That is why I joined seven of my Senate colleagues, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), in introducing the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014.  This legislation would prohibit the EPA from proposing or finalizing regulations based on science that is not made publicly available to the American people and that is not reproducible.

If Americans are going to continue to foot the bill for multimillion and multibillion dollar regulations, they have a right to see the underlying data.  Costly and often burdensome environmental regulations should only be basedon data that is available to independent scientists and the public.

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