The House That Kochs Bought Passes Bill Muzzling EPA Scientists

For many Americans it is stunning that in the 21st  Century there is a vibrant anti-science movement, especially in a highly technological nation. Of course, there is a reason two specific groups hate science and it is either because it debunks their superstition and mythos, or exposes their dirty industry practices as detrimental to the nation’s security and the people’s health. Republicans, particularly those beholden to the fossil fuel industry, claim that since they are “not scientists,” they can’t comment on, or accept,  that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for anthropogenic climate change threatening the nation’s health and security, and now they are attempting “real scientists” who can explain climate change.

On Tuesday, to ensure that the “right kind of scientists” are doling out advice on environmental protections, Republicans in the House passed legislation to guarantee that oil industry scientists loyal to the Kochs, and not independent scientists, serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board. The rule change prohibits scientists not in the employ of the oil industry from talking about, or giving advice  based on, independent scientific research, and prevents them from applying for grants from the EPA for further research.

The bill does, however, make it easier for “scientists” with financial ties to big oil and corporations to serve on the SAB and set environmental policy. The EPA, and the SAB, already allows some scientists and advisors with oil industry “expertise” to serve on the board, but the bill’s sponsor, Chris Stewart (R-UT) says it is not enough because the Koch brothers’ interests cannot control the direction of the EPA; his legislation remedies that.

The bill, the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, fulfills all of the industry, and Republicans’ requirements for their vision of environmental policy. Stewart has never concealed his profound distrust of scientists, an ardent  hatred of the EPA, and support for the oil and gas industry bordering on religious fanaticism; a typical Republican. In fact, the Mormon Stewart not only disbelieves real science proving the existence of climate change, he openly wants and has called for, like most Republicans, the summary elimination of the EPA over something related to faith.

According to Stewart, the SAB required a Koch-inspired change and oil industry-financed “scientists” to counterbalance those other experts for the sake of transparency. He said “We’re losing valuable insight and valuable guidance because we don’t include them, (oil industry-funded) scientists in the process” of advising on environmental policies. Democrats in the House did not believe Stewart’s motivation had anything whatsoever to do with transparency and everything to do with “balancing” scientific reality with oil industry fallacies.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was blunt in saying, “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson concurred with McGovern and said, “The supposed intent of the bill is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve. It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.” That is, after all, the intent of the bill that Americans are going to see a lot more of when Republicans begin repaying the Koch brothers for their multimillion dollar investment in buying Congress.

Real scientists, various environmental groups, and real health experts, the people protecting Americans,  rightly cited the real intent of the Koch-inspired bill; “compromise the scientific independence of the SAB and EPA,” and at the least “increase the length of time it takes the EPA to implement clean air and water regulations,” and if Republicans can fulfill the Koch’s wildest dreams, make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to function. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), real academics, fervently came out against the Koch bill and were outraged that the bill prohibits real scientists on the SAB from discussing peer-reviewed research they may have been involved or have an academic interest in such as the effect of carbon emissions on climate change.

In a letter to Congress prior to the bill’s passage, the UCS director Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote that, “This bill effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.” But Mr. Rosenberg fails to understand that valuable scientific evaluation is exactly what the Koch-Republicans do not want; or they would not have passed a bill prohibiting real scientists from both serving on the SAB or discussing important scientifically-researched empirical data as it relates to environmental protections.

The only good news, thus far, is that in the current incarnation of the Senate, there is no companion oil industry bill to take up. That will surely change when Republicans begin doling out remunerative gifts to the Koch’s for funding their campaigns and handing them control of the Senate. Also, in what is proving to be one of the lone champions for protecting the environment, national security, and Americans’ health, the Obama Administration has pledged to veto the bill if it makes it to the President’s desk. However, now that the Koch brothers control of both houses of Congress, there will be a flood of Republican legislation either muzzling real scientists or dispensing of the one agency protecting Americans health, air, and water; the EPA.

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