This man is no Lorax. He speaks for no trees.
This man is no Lorax. He speaks for no trees. Courtesy of Dave Reichert

Last week, Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8) voted along with a majority of Republicans to pass two bills: the HONEST Act (formerly known as the “Secret Science Reform Act”) and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act.

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As this great piece in the Atlantic from science writer Ed Yong and this great piece from Vox explain, both of these bills use the liberal-friendly language of transparency to mask their real goal, which is to cripple the already financially imperiled agency.

Before we get into the weeds about bills that are unlikely to pass the Senate, but which very much align with erstwhile president Bannon's desire to "dismantle the administrative state," let's review where some EPA grant money has been going in the counties that compose Reichert's district: King, Pierce, Kittitas and Chelan.

According to the Washington State Department of Health's website, EPA grants are used to "work with farmers to install fencing, feeding and watering facilities to keep manure out of streams" and "conduct site visits and offer technical and financial assistance to reduce pollution from farms." Nice!

Some EPA money goes to "research[ing] new technologies to reduce pollution and pathogens." Considerate!

And some goes to enhancing the septic systems. Clean!

Brian Resnick at Vox claims that The HONEST Act makes it more difficult for the EPA to use the best available science in its assessments by forcing the agency to cite only publicly available research. While that idea doesn't sound so bad, the costs to the agency would be astronomical.

Here's what the CBO wrote about a nearly identical version of this bill:

H.R. 1030 [aka "The Secret Science Act"] would amend the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a “covered action” unless all scientific and technical information used to support that action is publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results. Covered actions would include assessments of risks, exposure, or hazards; documents specifying criteria, guidance, standards, or limitations; and regulations and regulatory impact statements.

So the EPA wouldn't be able to assess how hazardous your town's septic system is unless they made widely available all the evidence they used to support that assessment. How much would it cost per year to make that evidence widely available? The CBO again:

Based on information from EPA, CBO expects that EPA would spend $250 million annually over the next few years to ensure the transparency of information and data supporting some covered actions.

The reason why it'd cost so much is because, as Resnick explains, the EPA does a lot of its own research, and lots of the other research it cites lives behind paywalls. In order to collect and disseminate the 50,000 studies per year that the EPA relies on to make its decisions, they'd need to pay, the CBO estimates, anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 per study to meet the bill's demands.

Moreover, as Yong reports, the bill would impose costly bureaucratic requirements. If the EPA wanted to propose public health legislation that relied on private data from medical records, for instance, administrators would have to redact all the names in the research materials on which they relied, a process that Yong says can take thousands of hours.

As Resnick mentions, the bill "only outlines $1 million for compliance," not $250 million.

So, the HONEST Act essentially imposes an unfunded mandate on the EPA. They either have to use less research, which would make them ineffective, or pay to make the research they've been using publicly available, which would bankrupt them. "All signs point to the idea that this bill is just a Trojan horse, a means to clog the pipeline of EPA action," Resnick writes.

The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act affects the—you guessed it—Science Advisory Board, a group of 48 experts split up into seven sub-committees that advise the head of the EPA. Scott Pruitt is the current secretary of that department, and he is in desperate need of advising. A few weeks ago, for instance, Pruitt announced his skepticism about the basic laws of physics.

If the SAB reform bill passes, those who are doing work that involves EPA grants won't be able to serve on the board, and those who serve on the board won't be able to apply for EPA grants for three years after their term of service. These restrictions, again, are supposedly in the service of eliminating conflicts of interest.

But, as Yong argues, current board members with EPA grants would have to go back in time and remove themselves from the board, which, of course, also defies the basic laws of physics. (Actually, Einstein says we can go back in time, but not forward. But, whatever, you know what I'm saying.)

"Most current members [of the board] are academic scientists, but 11 currently come from NGOs, state governments, and private companies like Procter & Gamble, Dow, and ExxonMobil," Yong claims. "The SAB Reform Act’s goal is to change those proportions."

So the bill isn't really about solving a non-existent conflict of interest problem at the EPA. Rather, it only serves to scare off academic scientists and other non-industry experts who rely on EPA grants to partially fund their research.

Sometimes Reichert votes on so-called pro-environment conservation efforts in order to appease the liberals in his district and uphold the fiction that he has "a conscience-driven independent streak." His votes for these two anti-science and anti-EPA bills suggest he's anything but a rubber stamp for Trump's agenda.

I’ve asked Reichert’s office for a statement on his vote for the HONEST Act and the SAB reform act, and I’ll be sure to update this post if they get back to me on this or any other matter at all.

Reichert Watch: Every time Reichert takes a party line vote that hurts his constituents or introduces needless legislation or does anything at all, we'll add it to the list.
• On March 28th, Reichert voted against demanding to see Trump's tax returns for the third time.
• On March 9, he voted for the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
• A week later, after a Congressional Budget Office analysis found the plan could leave 24 million people across the country without insurance by 2026, he defended it.
• Before that, Reichert made misleading statements about threats posed by his own constituents.
• Recently, he voted for the SCRUB act, which creates a regulatory committee to identify and eliminate regulations that don’t directly increase the GDP. The committee’s goals align with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon’s plan to “deconstruct the administrative state," but the irony of commissioning a regulatory agency to cut back on regulations is lost on no one, especially not tax payers who are being charged $30 million for the favor.
• Reichert twice voted against forcing Trump to show Congress his tax returns (once in committee and once in a roll call vote), which may illuminate conflicts of interest and business ties with Russia.
• Reichert was the only Washington Republican who voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.
• In 2014, he proposed a bill that would ban welfare recipients from using benefits to buy weed, despite the fact that such purchases were already illegal.
• In 2010, he voted to maintain “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell."
• That same year, Reichert suffered significant brain trauma when a tree branch fell on his head. The resulting hand-sized blood clot that formed in his brain went untreated for two months.
• In their 2006 endorsement, The Seattle Times Editorial Board applauded Reichert for his "conscience-driven independent streak," but, that same year, during a speech before the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, Reichert expressed his readiness to vote along party lines, saying: "when the leadership comes to me and says, 'Dave, we need you to take a vote over here because we want to protect you and keep this majority,' I... I do it." Though he has voted for some land conservation efforts, Reichert describes his pro-environment votes as "chess pieces, strategies" to hold his seat in a swing district. (RICH SMITH AND HEIDI GROOVER)