The past two weeks have seen The Tribune's opinion and politics pages teeming with indignation over the decision of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the Subcommittee on the Environment, which I chair, to issue a subpoena to the Environmental Protection Agency. The articles in question have made several points that need correcting.
As background, the EPA is currently drafting regulations that the agency itself admits will cost the U.S. economy up to $90 billion a year. Many experts believe the actual cost may be much higher. To be clear, we are not attacking current air regulations, but are concerned about the basis for future rules. While there may be room to debate the merits of President Obama's proposed regulations, it seems absurd to argue that it is unfair for Congress to ask to review the data underpinning them.
The basic question, then, is this: Before the administration creates a series of regulations that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, should it be open and honest with the American people? How could anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, feel it is a good idea for the government to make regulations without making the data underlying its decisions transparent?
In addition to not addressing this very basic question, several of the articles in question were sloppy with the facts.
Perhaps the most obvious error is The Tribune's reference in its Aug. 30 editorial ("Data for Stewart: Utah rep should do homework") to "the Clean Air Act signed by Ronald Reagan in 1970." Actually, the original Clean Air Act was signed in 1963 by President Johnson. It was amended in 1970, but Ronald Reagan wasn't president until 1981. We could pass that off as a typo but it's unfortunately consistent with the careless treatment of other relevant facts.
The paper also implied that the request for data was an attack on BYU professor C. Arden Pope, who was involved in various meaningful air-quality studies. The committee's concerns have nothing to do with Pope, nor any other scholar. Not only is it fair that Congress ask for the data, as subcommittee chairman, it is my constitutional responsibility. In our system of checks and balances, Congress has an important oversight role in keeping federal agencies honest. Ensuring public access to taxpayer-funded data is simply good government.
Finally, the articles claimed that in requesting the data, we would compromise the privacy of individuals involved in the studies. This is false. The subpoena explicitly provided that the data sets could be de-identified to ensure that personal information would not be released.
We can and should debate the merits of President Obama's proposed regulations and their economic impact. But it's silly to argue that there shouldn't be a transparent process.
In the future, I hope the administration will be more open with the American people. I also hope The Tribune will be more accurate in its editorializing. It seems very little to ask.
Chris Stewart, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, represents Utah's 2nd Congressional District.