Policy & Politics

Published on April 4th, 2017 | by Tina Casey

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New EPA Gag Bill Could Face Trump Veto Pen, For Reasons

April 4th, 2017 by  

Will he or won’t he? President Donald J. Trump could soon have the opportunity to sign legislation that effectively prevents the US Environmental Protection Agency from considering medical and public health research as evidence. This “gag” bill would inflict a semi-mortal wound on the agency’s review process, so it sounds like a great way for Trump to cement his relationship with industry stakeholders and a good part of the Republican voting base.

On the other hand, Trump’s approval numbers are so low, and his relationship with the Republican-held Congress is so fraught, that he might be inclined to rouse up his remaining supporters by nixing the deal with one swipe of his veto pen.

That’s especially so when you consider the New York City real estate factor…

The “Honest” Spin on the EPA Gag Rule

If the new EPA gag rule is news to you, join the club. It didn’t make much of a ripple in the blogosphere last week, when the House of Representatives voted in favor of the new legislation.

That’s partly because the name of the bill is designed to deflect controversy — it’s HR (House Resolution) 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017, aka the HONEST Act.

That “honest and open” thing is a bit misleading because the proposed legislation does not actually invite greater transparency into the EPA review process.

Instead, the new law would require EPA to base its regulations on “science that is publically (sic) available.” That sounds reasonable, but the problem is that the legislation also affirms “laws prohibiting the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information.”

Here’s what the League of Conservation Voters has to say about that:

…These provisions would severely limit the EPA’s ability to use data that includes studies with confidential health information. These types of studies are the basis for the best research on pollution’s effects on people, but include individual health records that are legally required to remain confidential. H.R. 1430 would cripple the EPA’s ability to develop effective public health safeguards by forcing them to disregard the results of these studies, resulting in less protective standards.

Ouch!

Nevertheless, the bill was voted out of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on March 9th, along with another piece of legislation targeting the EPA. That would be HB 1431, the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act,” which would inhibit knowledgeable experts from participating in the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Vice Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) had this to say about both bills:

“Since American taxpayers foot the bill for EPA regulations, they deserve to have access to the science that supposedly justifies these regulations. The HONEST Act requires the EPA to base its decisions on information available to scientists and the American public. The days of “trust-me” science are over…”

The full House voted in favor of both bills last week. Chairman Smith greeted the news with that thing about “‘trust me’ science” again:

“The American people have a right to see the data that is used to justify EPA’s costly regulations. The HONEST Act requires EPA to base new regulations on sound science that is publically available, and not hidden from the American people. The days of ‘trust me’ science are over…

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

As of this writing, HR 1430 is in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, along with HR 1431.

For what it’s worth, GovTrack.com has crunched the numbers via PredictGov.com and right now HR 1430 only has a 17% chance of passing the Senate (HR 1431 weighs in slightly better at 20%).

PredictGov has its own algorithmic reasons for such a dour outlook on HR 1430’s chances, but you can also go onto the SST Committee website and find a very human reason why it’s not likely that the bill will pass out of committee.

In a press release last week, the Committee Chairman, John Barrasso (R-WY) went nuclear on the Army Corps of Engineers. He accused the agency of failing to conduct the “proper testing” needed to remediate Cold War legacy sites. These are the toxic plumes of groundwater pollution in Barrasso’s home state of Wyoming and other western states, left over from missile installations.

Apparently Barrasso was specifically referring to the 6,000 acre Warren Air Force Base near the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. That’s a Superfund site, where cleanup overseen by the EPA has been ongoing.

Barrasso made it clear that his constituents have been agitating for more responsiveness — and more federal dollars — to complete the cleanup activities and safeguard local water resources.

Barrasso has been a frequent critic of the EPA, but considering the circumstances in Wyoming it’s not likely that he would be eager to see HR 1430 pass out of Committee in its current form.

President Trump’s unpredictable behavior makes a positive outcome even less likely.

After all, why would Barrasso risk the wrath of his constituents (well, at least some of them) with a “yes” vote, if Trump would just as soon veto the bill as not.

And, Even More Interesting

So, why would President Trump veto an anti-EPA bill?

Beating up on the EPA would seem to be a no-brainer, but consider that the President seems to have established a practice of signing things without reading them.

In other words, the content does not matter as much as the context does.

In that regard, HR 1430 would seem to be on safe ground. Its sponsor, Lamar Smith, was the first Republican in Congress to contribute to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and he has continued to advocate strongly for the President.

Well, money changes everything…

Follow The Money

Our friends over at Vox Media have the scoop on this one, through Curbed New York:

Ironically, several of the most toxic properties in New York City are currently under the control of Trump family members who stand to benefit from their remediation and development. In Brooklyn, two enormous brownfields in Dumbo and Gowanus were purchased by Jared Kushner…

In the Bronx, the Trump Organization is raking in millions of dollars from a special rent-free arrangement to operate Trump Ferry Point, a city golf course built on top of a noxious garbage dump…

As one of our favorite people on the Intertubes would say, oh my.

Financial responsibility for the cleanup of legacy Superfund sites is typically not the responsibility of a new owner — that’s what the Superfund is for. The EPA provides vital technical assistance and oversight. So, crippling the EPA beyond repair is not in Kushner’s best interest.

Now, consider two important things about Kushner (President Trump’s adult son-in-law, for those of you new to the topic).

First, Kushner is reported to be a moderating voice in the Trump Administration. Back in February he and his wife Ivanka were credited with keeping the President from signing an executive order that would have removed the US from the Paris climate agreement.

Kushner’s influence was not strong enough to prevent the last week’s slew of anti-EPA executive orders, including the rollback of the Clean Power Plan (to be clear, rolling back the Clean Power Plan may not have any significant effect, for both legal and economic reasonsespecially economic).

Those Executive Orders aside, in recent days Kushner’s role in the Administration has been ballooning to the point where he is acting as a sort of Commander-in-Chief At-Large.

Bagging a fat prize like the Clean Power Plan was a feather in Trump’s cap and he alone could take credit for the rollback.

In contrast, the weedy techno-babble of HR 1430 and 1431 represents a much more ephemeral victory, one that Trump would have to share with Congress.

That brings us around to Trump’s relationship with his own party in Congress. He has already managed to alienate the notoriously powerful Freedom Caucus, and his habit of throwing around threats and insults has many other Republicans looking for ways to cut and run.

Things are really going to heat up as the budget talks gather steam, as Republican legislators push back against Trump’s proposed budget.

That leaves Trump with the solid support of few besides members of his immediate family and a shrinking number of voters.

Aside from executive orders, the presidential power of veto is practically the only weapon Trump has left.

Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Photo: “dumbo” by paramita via flickr.com, creative commons license.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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