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Despite a line-up of three industry voices against a lone voice of reason in Dr. Rush Holt of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the hearing failed to land any substantial blows against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead, Holt and the pro-science members of the committee explained the many ways in which Smith's "sound science" fixation sounds stupid to those who know science.
While Smith did his best to use this weekend's fake news about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to stir up drama, the fact that the "whistleblower" told E&E there was no data manipulation took the wind right out of his sails. Instead of problems with the conclusion of the study, the concern Bates had was that the data wasn't archived properly because the paper was rushed, which isn't true. So when Smith asked if Science would retract the paper, Holt reiterated these points. He added, "This is not the making of a big scandal" and "there is nothing in the Karl paper that, in our current analysis, suggests retraction." Score one for science!
The industry speakers, on the other hand, made relatively drab and inconsequential statements in the form of vague platitudes about the need for "sound science" instead of "secret science." For those who missed it, The Intercept had a great piece the other day on this Orwellian term and its tobacco industry-origins (which the ever-awesome Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson entered into the record to close the hearing). Because while Smith claims it will make science at the EPA better, what it would really do is prevent the EPA from using studies that rely on confidential health records or studies of individual events, which by definition can't be replicated.
Dr. Holt made it clear that, "The Secret Science Act, as it has been previously introduced, has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works." Though, given its design as a vehicle for the tobacco (and now fossil fuel) industry to prevent regulation, one might believe that it is less a misunderstanding of science than a deliberate attempt to cripple it.
The second aspect of "making the EPA great again" was proposed reform to the EPA's Scientific Advisory Boards. This idea was deceptively described by the industry speakers as an effort to increase "diversity" and "balance" and provide more "perspective" to these review boards. What they really do is give industry a seat at the table so they can do what industry wants- fight regulation. That Smith called on Jeffrey Holmstead, who was once disqualified as an expert witness by a judge due to his multiple conflicts of interest, namely lobbying for coal and other energy companies, tells you everything you need to know.
The third witness was Dr. Richard Belzer, an economist and president of "Regulatory Checkbook," who seems to be in the outer orbit of the Koch universe and whose Twitter feed appears to be a bizarre advertisement for a wine website. His main contribution was that cost-benefit analyses should be called benefit-cost Analyses because ... benefits are better? It wasn't really clear.
The last witness on Smith's side was Dr. Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council. She made a valiant effort to portray the injection of biased industry voices into the federal peer review process as a matter of balance and perspective, which one would expect from someone representing an industry group.
Our favorite part of the hearing, though, came not from any of the witnesses but from Rep. Don Beyer, who donned a red "Keep The EPA Great" hat after saying that, "We will not help anyone by disputing climate science with stories from white nationalist websites like Breitbart.com or tabloids like the Daily Mail."
Given Rep. Smith's history of writing op-eds for Breitbart and reliance on the Mail to attack NOAA, we couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Watch the hearing here:
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