Talking points: {Dis}HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act

We should tell our Senators to oppose a pair of bills aimed at crippling EPA. Both have already passed the House. If they pass the Senate, their effect will be felt long after the Trump Administration is history.
(1) The HONEST Act would prevent EPA from using sound science making decisions about how to best protect our public health and environment.
Cloaked in language about “transparency,” the HONEST Act is really aimed at providing cover for corporate lobbyists to nitpick studies, make sound science look bad, and discredit EPA in the eyes of the public.
The tactics enshrined in the HONEST Act were used by tobacco companies for many years to block knowledge about how negatively tobacco smoke affected human health. Now corporate lobbyists want to apply these same tactics to every EPA decision.
If passed, this bill would give Scott Pruitt legal cover to toss out scientific findings underlying many rules that protect public health – such as rules that limit soot, ozone, acid rain, carbon monoxide and lead.
(2) The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act would restructure the independent science advisory bodies used by EPA to give industry more voice. Industry representatives who have a financial stake in scientific decisions before EPA would be now be allowed to serve on the Board. Currently, SAB’s ethics rules require that science advisors do not profit from EPA decisions.
The bill would also make it harder for academic scientists to serve as advisors by restricting their access to future government funding for scientific research.
Background: The Science Advisory Board was established in 1978 to provide independent scientific advice to the EPA’s administrator. It currently advises the agency on complex scientific issues ranging in scope from agricultural science to chemical assessments, ecological assessments, environmental justice, drinking water, and radiation. Most recently, the EPA SAB was instrumental in ensuring that the EPA made clear and evidence-based conclusions that accurately represented its findings on the systemic impacts of fracking on drinking water resources.  More information?

Here’s a timely piece on the man behind the [Dis]HONEST Act.

Congressman Lamar Smith is chief sponsor of the (Dis)HONEST Act and it’s partner bill, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act. Both bills are aimed at institutionalizing Smith’s anti-science shenanigans within our system of environmental protections. Maybe Texas voters are finally getting fed-up? Out of the mouths of babes…

“FOR MOST OF his four years as chair of the Science Committee, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas has served up more spectacle than policy. As arguably the showiest climate denier and opponent of environmental regulations in Congress, Smith has orchestrated climate change hearings that are the scientific equivalent of pro-wrestling matches. Stacked with skeptics who mocked mainstream climate science, they offered virtually no chance for significant dialogue. Similarly, Smith’s challenge to the well-documented relationship between air pollution and lung disease was seen as little more than a craven nod to the energy companies that were responsible for that pollution. And his repeated use of his subpoena power has served mostly to attract attention and make life difficult for the scientists and government workers he has targeted….

Already this session Smith revived two bills that, before the election, had been dismissed as nuisances The Honest Act, which grew out of a strategy developed by the tobacco industry, is designed to prohibit the EPA from using public health research; the other bill, known as the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, was crafted to allow industry representatives to serve on scientific boards. Both bills were passed by the House in March…

Smith has always been well liked by the energy industry — he has received more than $700,000 from the oil and gas industry over the course of his career, more than from any other sector — but his newfound power has clearly delighted climate deniers, as evidenced by the hero’s welcome he received when he gave the keynote address at the Heartland Institute’s Climate Conference in March…

Not everyone is pleased with Smith’s successes on behalf of polluting industries. National environmental groups are beginning to target Smith for being “one of the worst climate change deniers in Congress,” as Craig Auster of the League of Conservation Voters described him. And just as he is reaching the height of his power in Washington, Smith is facing a wave of outrage from constituents in Texas that could present the first real challenge for his seat in 30 years…

The first visible signs that the political tide was beginning to turn emerged in October, when his hometown paper, The San Antonio Express News, declined to endorse his re-election bid. In an editorial, the paper took issue with what it called “his bullying on the issue of climate change.” The results of a poll published 10 days later showed eroding support for Smith, with 45 percent of voters saying they were less likely to vote for Smith after learning he had taken Exxon Mobil’s side in the dispute over the company’s handling of climate change.

But the real shift came on election day, when Trump got 52 percent of the vote in the 21st district. As elsewhere, many of those who didn’t vote for the president found themselves in an emotionally and politically heightened state. After seeing many of these distraught people in his office, a San Antonio therapist named Jason Sugg decided to start a support group. Ten people attended its first meeting in January. Four months later, more than 4,200 people have joined what has become the TX21 chapter of Indivisible, including some life-long Republicans who supported Smith in the past….

While the [Indivisble] group initially emerged to fight Trump, the presidential race focused Smith’s constituents on their congressman’s environmental policies, which in turn has helped fuel an explosive wave of energy to unseat him. Smith had no Democratic challengers in 2014 and only one poorly funded opponent last year. But with a year-and-a-half still to go before the next election, nine people have already announced their intention to run for his seat. While they span the spectrum from Joseph Kopser, a former Republican and Army veteran, to Derrick Crowe, who describes himself as an “unabashed nerd and unrepentant pacifist,” all have taken issue with Smith’s stance on climate.

The race to unseat Smith has also drawn attention from national environmental groups. 314Action, a new group dedicated to helping scientists run for public office, is targeting Smith through its “Under the Scope” program. The group plans to invest in ads for the winner of the primary, according to Ted Bordelon, communications director 314Action, who described the group as an “Emily’s List for Nerds.”..

Anti-Smith sentiment has even emerged in the Hill Country, the reddest and most rural part of Smith’s district…While the Hill Country is still a Republican stronghold, McAllen said growing concerns about water entered politics here after the area underwent a severe drought a few years ago. “More people here believed in global warming during that drought than ever before,” said {Ashley] McAllen. Though the rains have returned, some wells are still running dry, and McAllen feels that Smith’s climate denial will clash with locals’ knowledge that climate change is already affecting them. “They know something is different. They can see it in their creeks.”…

Yet [Democratic consultant Colin] Strother believes whoever winds up challenging Smith still faces long odds. The only way to win, according to Strother, is to focus on all of Smith’s vulnerabilities, including his inaccessibility to constituents. “When LBJ represented this district, he used to hover his helicopter and yell down to farmers through a bull horn. But if you’re not a member of the Republican club or part of the wealthy moneyed donor community, you’re never going to see Smith,” said Strother. Defeating Smith, he said, will require bringing environmentalists together with “people who want the son of a bitch to show up once and a while.”..

A few weeks ago, one of Florence’s sons tagged along on a Tuesday visit [to Smith’s office]. Jack is 11 and extremely worried about climate change. When one of Smith’s staffers came out to greet them, Jack explained the science behind global warming — how greenhouse gases can trap the sun’s heat and cause the earth to heat up. Florence hopes the meeting was helpful for Jack. “He learned that he can do something and can have a voice,” she said. Smith’s takeaway was less clear. He wasn’t in the office, though his staff member promised to deliver the message.”


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Save EPA has been an all-volunteer group of former EPA officials who became alarmed about the Trump agenda for EPA and joined together to fight it.

With newly-elected President-Elect Biden and VP-Elect Harris coming in January, the need to "save EPA" is much less urgent. This is not to imply all clear skies ahead - there is much re-building to do, there will be negative pressures on the new administration, and we will likely have policy differences in the future. However, we are hopeful that these differences will be discussed rationally, using science as a basis for moving forward, and keeping EPA's mission of protecting human health and the environment in the forefront.

And so, we are going back to retirement!  We're keeping our website up at , as a resource for those who want to follow and influence the restoration work. Our report on the Trump record at EPA describes the actions that need to be reversed [], and our guide to participating in the rulemaking process [] can help you be part of the solution.

Thank you for your support and commitment during the past 3.5 years.  While the Trump assaults were unending, they were also frequently unsuccessful, and that was due in large part to public outrage.  Keep it up!  Although EPA will be in much better hands with a Biden administration, there is always a need for an informed and engaged public.