Administrator Pruitt Ignores EPA Staff Analysis of HONEST Act Costs
What Happened: An EPA analysis showing that Congress’s proposed “HONEST Act” would cost the agency more than $250 million per year was buried by Administrator Pruitt’s office. The analysis, conducted by experts at the EPA, was to be sent on to the congressional budget office (CBO) from Administrator Pruitt’s office, but it never made it there.
Why it Matters: When the best available science and data are ignored, policy decisions are ineffective. Not only would the HONEST act incur additional costs and time for the EPA to implement, but it would impact the amount of research that scientists conduct, and it would deter both industry and academics from working with the EPA. Maybe most importantly, because of the data limitation set by the HONEST act, the EPA would be restricted from doing valuable research that protects human health and our environment.
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff-level analysis found that complying with Congress’s proposed “HONEST Act” would cost the agency more than $250 million per year; however, this analysis was ignored by Administrator Pruitt’s office. “EPA estimated that it would cost $10,000-$30,000 per study” to comply with the HONEST Act, the internal staff analysis stated, “but some studies may cost closer to $1 million.” This analysis was sent to Administrator Pruitt’s office to be sent on to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but was never sent to the CBO.
The legislation, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017 (H.R. 1430 – 115th Congress, 2017-2018), formerly known as the Secret Science Reform Act, would require all research data used in agency actions to be made available to the public. The bill passed the House on March 29th with only 3 democrats in support.
EPA career staff argue that the HONEST act would incur additional costs and time to implement, would limit research that gets conducted, and would deter industry and academics from working with the agency. In their comments to the CBO, staff said that, “In addition to spending dollars and staff time on requesting and getting data from study authors, creating [information technology] infrastructure and a data management system to manage, store, and archive large volumes of data, and making the data available in a format that is useful and accessible to the public, EPA would also have to spend dollars and staff time combing through these extensive datasets to find and redact Personally Identifiable Information and Confidential Business Information.”
The HONEST Act would restrict data that could be used, limiting the research that the EPA can conduct. Because data would have to be made publicly available, EPA couldn’t use medical records, which are confidential and cannot be legally released. This would make it difficult for the EPA to develop public health protections. And while the language of the bill suggest that personally identifying information can be redacted, that information can also be un-redacted by the EPA administrator. This will likely deter academics and industry from working with the EPA out of fear that confidential information could be released. Additionally, redacting such large amounts of information would take a lot of agency time and, subsequently, money.