House panel hits EPA with subpoena over pollution studies
Pollution • Utah’s Stewart says the agency is driven more by politics than by science.
Published: August 2, 2013 05:36PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:31PM
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Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo Republican Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

Washington • House Republicans say they are tired of asking the Environmental Protection Agency to provide the underlying data used in studies tying pollution to serious health problems.

So, they issued a subpoena late Thursday, the first from the Science Committee in 21 years.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who leads a subcommittee that oversees the EPA, joined with Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in demanding troves of data from long-range pollution studies that the agency has used in crafting new and proposed regulations to clamp down on smog, soot and power plant emissions.

They claim the agency’s use of “secret science” is suspect and could indicate the process is driven by politics rather than data.

“Given that the data sets in question are used to justify new costly regulations, it is imperative that this information be open and transparent,” Stewart said.

The subpoena gives the agency until Aug. 19 to hand over data collected by Harvard University and the American Cancer Society.

EPA officials and Democrats on the Science Committee strongly reject the Republicans insinuations and the agency says it is attempting to be as open as it can be about studies that rely on the private health information of more than 1 million Americans.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, said even if the researchers handed over the confidential data, the Republicans on the committee didn’t employ anyone qualified to review it. Legitimate researchers, she said, have other avenues to access the data as long as they follow confidentiality rules.

“You have requested the personal medical histories of literally hundreds of thousands of American citizens. And for what purpose?” she wrote in a letter to Smith this week. “There is no conceivable way that you or your staff could meaningfully use this data to refute the seminal health studies you seem preoccupied with attacking.”

The EPA has requested that researchers hand over the information that the Republicans have requested and officials say they have produced all of the information at their disposal.

“I want to emphasize, however, that the fact that some of the data is not public in no way undermines the validity of the studies’ results. Nor does it call into question the EPA’s reliance on those studies, along with thousands of other peer-reviewed studies,,” wrote Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator, in a letter to Smith on Tuesday.

The data dispute is just one front in the Republicans’ critical look at the EPA’s actions under President Barack Obama.

The House, which the GOP controls, has sought to cut the agency’s funding by one-third and has criticized attempts to restrict emissions at coal-fired power plans and attempts to regulate the levels of acceptable ozone.

A new ozone standard could have a significant impact on Utah, where naturally occurring levels of ozone are higher than in other states because of its elevation and frequent wildfires. The EPA has yet to determine how strict a standard to apply, but if counties fail it could result in less federal funding and restrictions on further construction projects.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham