Members Ask: Is Science Driving Policy, or is Policy Driving Science?
WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today held a hearing to examine the objectivity and credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical risk program, the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).
The IRIS assessment program and its database were created in 1985 to assist EPA in policy decisions and its ability to protect Americans from dangerous chemical exposures. While risk assessment remains critical to public health protection, the integrity of the IRIS program has been called into question in recent years. The purpose of today’s hearing was to examine the underlying bias present in the program and the impact of science manipulation on jobs and the economy.
“I have been a strong advocate of high quality science that is objective and valid. Moreover, I understand that many people are concerned about IRIS activities on specific chemicals. I am not here to defend any particular chemical. This hearing is not about specific chemicals.To truly protect the public from harm and negative economic outcomes, we need an
unbiased science process informing policymakers, not policymakers informing the science,” said Shimkus. “There is no doubt providing such high quality science-based assessment is critical to EPA’s mission. The question is whether IRIS is in fact fulfilling this goal or have results begun to develop to support specific policy objectives.”
Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Government Accountability Office testified on their views of the IRIS process and its role in regulatory decisions. To address the criticisms of the program, EPA has proposed a set of changes to IRIS intended to improve transparency and streamline the process. GAO is currently undertaking a review of EPA’s proposed revisions and is expected to report its findings later this year. David Trimble, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, testified today that IRIS reforms still present a number of challenges that could threaten the credibility of the program.
Additional witnesses testified about EPA’s flawed process and questioned whether the agency’s scientists were using the best science available for the IRIS assessments. Witnesses explained how IRIS could impair the ability of policymakers to make informed decisions, creating negative implications for American businesses and consumers. Using the chemical barium as an example, Jerry Cook, Technical Director of the Chemical Products Corporation, showed how IRIS’ shortcomings could lead to over-regulation and decreased competition.
“If IRIS functioned properly, EPA could identify unnecessary regulations offering no benefit to human health and the environment and remove these burdens from U.S. industries. Unfortunately, in the case of the IRIS barium file, I have found IRIS chemical managers, and their superiors, to be much more interested in bureaucratic expediency than in sound science,” said Cook.
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), a physician, expressed great frustration over the political manipulation of EPA’s scientific process. His line of questioning, viewable in the video below, underscores the role of science in driving effective public policy and the perils of distorting science to achieve pre-determined policy outcomes.