In DepthU.S. Policy

A battle over the ‘best science’

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Science  17 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6330, pp. 1108-1109
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6330.1108

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Who could object to calls for basing government regulations on the "best available science"? But in Washington, D.C., the phrase has become code for a contentious debate surrounding federal regulatory agencies. Last week, the debate heated up again in Congress as a Senate panel launched a potentially arduous effort to spell out how regulators should identify and use the best science. In a related effort, the House of Representatives science panel approved—for the third time in recent years—controversial bills that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the data underlying all new rules publicly available and affect how it picks its science advisers. The largely Republican backers of the efforts say they are long overdue—and bet any changes have a better chance of becoming law under President Donald Trump, who has promised to streamline and reduce regulation. But observers of the nascent Senate effort—including many scientific societies—are wary, fearing it could end up promoting regulatory paralysis. And critics have blasted the House bills, arguing that they are designed to give industry a disproportionate voice in EPA decisions and cripple the agency's ability to issue rules. "The concern is that a lot of this looks like a clever, stealth attempt to create new legal and administrative pathways for slowing agencies down and tying them up in court, rather than genuinely trying to assure the use of the best science in rulemaking," says Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy in the American Lung Association's Washington, D.C., office.