The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, known to many as just the House Science Committee, met yesterday to discuss "making EPA great again." That's not a cutesy riff on President Trump's infamous campaign motto, by the way. It's what the hearing was actually called.
What constitutes "great again" depends on how you look at it. According to the Committee's chairman and noted science agitator, Republican congressman Lamar Smith, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be more amenable to corporate interests. This is seemingly why four witness, including fossil fuel and chemical lobbyists, were invited to testify against the EPA's use of science to inform policymaking.
Meanwhile, one House Science Committee member, Republican congressman Barry Loudermilk, has been burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. The Georgia native, who serves as chairman of the oversight subcommittee, simultaneously supports making the EPA great again, and just flat-out abolishing it. No exaggeration there—last week, Rep. Loudermilk co-sponsored HR 861, a bill that aims "to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency."
It's unclear how the congressman would improve the agency if it ceases to exist. I reached out to Rep. Loudermilk's office with this question, but have not heard back.
"Having a member support a bill that gets rid of the EPA but also participate in the hearing illustrates what they mean by 'great,'" Yogin Kothari, a Washington representative at the Union of Concerned Scientists who was at yesterday's hearing, told me.
"They want an agency that's toothless, and reject any science that conflicts with their views. Their version of great is what fits their policy agenda. It's not necessarily where the science leads, nor what the EPA's mission is."
A spokesperson for the House Science Committee told me Chairman Smith "is aware of the legislation and appreciates all the input and differing views on it."
The bill, which was introduced by freshman Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, isn't expected to go anywhere, but its edict is no joke. Like other pending legislation, it would transfer federal oversight to the states after dismantling the EPA, fulfilling the Trump administration's directive to weaken broad, nationwide regulations.
Yesterday's Committee hearing, while operating under the auspices of improving the EPA, wasn't much more constructive.
The Committee discussed two pieces of legislation, one of them being the notorious Secret Science Reform Act. This bill would prevent the EPA from making decisions "based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible." Functionally, however, it would cripple the agency's ability to use vast swaths of medical, climate, and environmental data that cannot be replicated for legitimate reasons. A report from The Intercept noted this would apply to studies on toxic pesticide poisoning, or the Gulf oil spill, for example.
The bill was introduced twice before, during the 113th and 114th Congress, but never made it past the Senate. This time, however, with a Republican-controlled Congress, we could see a different outcome.
"These bills are Trojan horse transparency bills that would enhance industry influence and diminish way the agency can use science," Kothari said.
Rep. Loudermilk isn't unique in his desire to gut the agency. The House Science Committee, contrary to its name, has been launching offensives against scientific integrity for several years now.
Chairman Smith has wielded his subpoena power (in a manner that some have called abusive) to threaten government scientists, environmental groups, and even state attorneys general for challenging the fossil fuel industry. Under his leadership, the Committee has issued more subpoenas that it has in the previous 54 years.
So is Rep. Loudermilk's dual agenda really so conflicting? Perhaps not. Both the bill and "making EPA great again" would be irreparably damaging to the agency.
But his double-edged approach to sidelining science shouldn't be dismissed. If anything, it shows how far some Republicans will go to help corporate interests at the cost of human health and the environment.