Vote Notes: The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act
While there are no perfect decisions, the good ones that we make are based on our best judgment between competing interests. My dad would get us as boys to sit down with a legal pad and put a plus column on one side and a minus column on the other. We would then begin to list under each column the so-called plusses and minuses that would help lead me or my brothers’ decisions on where to go to college, on whether or not to join a sports team, or which summer job might work best.
So it goes with legislation, and on H.R. 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act, I believe there were ultimately more minuses than plusses. Accordingly, I voted no. The bill passed 228 to 194.
At first blush, it seemed a straightforward bill because it would simply require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use scientific information in making government regulations and post their data publicly online.
In fact, it was more complex than this, and when I got under the hood on this bill, I had two major reservations. One was tied to the idea of balance in the way that we approach problems, that the context of a decision bears on the decision itself, and the other was tied to the bill’s implementation. Let me expand on both of these thoughts.
On the implementation front, they say you can do business in Italy...but as a practical matter, can you? I don’t mean this as a crack against Italian businesses, but I do mean it in the way that at times things can be arranged so that advertised purposes don’t measure up in the real world with the outcomes that have been advertised. We’ve all seen certain barriers to business that are de facto stops against a small business being able to compete in a given county or against a large business in a neighborhood.
Here’s what this meant in this bill.
The bill says that the scientific data behind regulations needs to be posted online. This is good, and I agree with it. The catch here is that if this was not done, the regulation could not go into effect. But the bill allocates only $1 million toward posting this information online when the real cost is estimated to be $250 million. So what this means is that no regulation could go into effect, given the agency’s newfound inability to post the information online. I’m as much against the EPA as anyone else for the way in which they have gone beyond their mission on several fronts, but it’s important that we not throw the baby out with the bathwater because there is a legitimate function for environmental protection. If we want to stop all regulation from the EPA, let’s just be direct about it. I don’t believe that there would be an American consensus to do so...but I think that we should all be wary of bills that bring with them the either intended, or unintended, consequence of essentially shutting down all regulation from an agency of which most of us as conservatives are rightfully skeptical.
Which brings me to my second point, balance.
I liked much of what this bill was getting at...backing up the what, where, why, and when of regulation, and making it public. For this reason I supported this measure last year. But that was a very different context. The Obama Administration had given the EPA license to expand well beyond its mandate - and even the limits of the law. In that context, to me, it made sense to look for every tool available to limit some of what they were doing.
This is not the case today. The new EPA Director Scott Pruitt has said that he is going to heavily curtail EPA activities. The president has said the same. I’m not worried about the EPA taking unilateral actions in the way that they did with the last administration.
My worry now is on the opposite side. The woods and the waters of the South Carolina Lowcountry are what have attracted so many here and kept the rest of us here over the years. The EPA does a role in air and water matters of our country given the way in which neither stay within the confines of a given state.
For this reason, in this Congress I voted against the proposed rollback of the Natural Gas and Methane Waste rule. That rule in particular limited the practice of venting large amounts of capturable natural gas into the atmosphere, leading to an expected $800 million in wasted returns to the taxpayer...along with large discharges of methane into the air we breathe. I was one of 11 Republicans to vote against that rollback in February.
Similarly, I voted in early February to defend the Stream Protection Rule, which regulated mountaintop removal mining in order to protect streams and rivers. As a conservative, my belief has always been that your rights end when they begin to infringe upon mine. What happens upstream impacts you or me downstream, and the rolling back of this rule would have pretended that this was not the case.
I could go on with other examples, but my point here is that from the standpoint of context with this new administration and even the actual implementation of the bill itself, I think that this bill was found wanting, and accordingly I voted as I did.