A Little Context for U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's Epic Jeremiad Against Lamar Smith's EPA Subpoena

Categories: Politics

eddiebernicejohnson.jpg
U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson got a few things off of her chest last week during a recent House committee hearing. Last week, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, issued a congressional subpoena for the first time in more than two decades. They're after the EPA's "secret science," the data upon which much of the Clean Air Act limits are based.

Smith wants to open the data up to the public to allow "the American people the ability to verify the EPA's claims." At the opening of the hearing, Johnson unloaded on Smith. "Just yesterday, you readily admitted that you intend to pass on this confidential data to third parties. Who, Mr. Chairman? What legitimate scientific research can't already access this data? I have to assume you'll be passing this data to, excuse my language, industry hacks. To so blatantly be doing the bidding of this polluting industry is simply mind-boggling."

Johnson's diatribe comes across as the pedestrian partisan bickering we've grown so accustomed to. Out of context, it's political white noise. That's why a little context helps.

The data in question comes from the seminal Harvard Six Cities study. Researchers sited air-monitoring stations in six American towns and strapped mobile ambient air-quality sampling packs to many of the thousands of study participants, whom they followed for 17 years. From 1974 to 1991, they checked in with these folks annually to ascertain their vital status. After controlling for smoking and other risk factors, they found that air pollution shortened their participants' lives.

In 1993, the researchers published their work in the New England Journal of Medicine, proving that pollution meant more to humans than smog and foul-smelling air. It kills us slowly. They added to the data eight additional years of follow-up in another peer-reviewed journal in 2006. During that time, air pollution levels decreased in the cities. So too did the associated risk of death from heart and lung disease.

Citizens for a Sound Economy, a deregulation advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers, understood the implications better than anyone. They knew that the data would almost certainly be used by the EPA to regulate air pollution, like particulate matter. Luckily, they had friends in Congress who demanded that the study authors release their raw data. Because much of that data consisted of personal health information, and because the authors had promised the participants that they wouldn't drag their private lives into the public realm, they declined.

The EPA, as Koch Industries suspected, wanted to rely on the data for new air pollution limits. Under stiff pressure from anti-regulatory lawmakers, the agency struck on a compromise. They let an independent group of scientists attempt to poke holes in the conclusions and methods of the Harvard study. The group came away impressed, affirming the findings. In fact, it's now a model for air quality studies around the world.

Now a powerful House committee is calling once again for the Six Cities "secret data," as Smith characterizes it. He claims Congress has been stonewalled by the EPA and he has been left with no choice but to subpoena it. As Johnson has noted time and again, EPA supplied the committee with data that had been "de-identified" to protect the privacy of the study participants. Apparently, that wasn't good enough for Smith. When asked to whom he would give this raw data to, he said "It wouldn't be fair to identify individuals or organizations."

After being lambasted as an industry tool by Johnson, Smith asked her to retract some of her statement. After a fashion, she did. Then she added that the tactic of thwarting regulation by discrediting science is a tactic as old as Big Tobacco. "I want to be clear: This is not legitimate oversight. This is not an appropriate role for this committee. My job is not to undermine the public health at the behest of polluting industry."

You can watch a video of the hearing here.

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51 comments
sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

She is defending another arm of the Obama destruction of Americas wealth


dont forget Obams was preaching nukes and stopped when the japanese shtf


this also ties in with Obams wasting our money so far to the tunes Billions $$ for electric cars

which of course industry takes on with the market demands


is this the same JOhnson who has her wikipedia record wiped clean (twice) of giving relatives $$$ she should not have



ebailey75057
ebailey75057

Ok people enough already.  This issue is about clean air, you know the stuff we cannot live very long without.  The Repugnants, were ordered by their Big Business masters, to reduce the regulations regarding how much pollution factories can put in the air.  The motivating factor is that it costs Big Business more money to operate their factories, with these regulations in place.  The very reason these regulations are in place was because Big Business proved that they would rather use our skies as toilets for their waste products.  I remember visiting my relatives in Pittsburgh PA. during mid 1960s.  Washed my Grandparent's car, 1 hour later you couldn't even tell it was washed the soot was so bad.  Sorry have no desire to return to that era of bad unbreathable air.   The EPA has improved our Air and Water quality.  Why on earth would you want to rollback clean air and water regulations?    

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I am in no way, shape or form, a supporter of either EBJ or increased regulation.  I am, however, a big supporter of keeping the government out of our private lives as much as possible.  This is a no-brainer.  Do not, under any circumstances, give the detailed, personal 'base' data to Lamar Smith.  Or to anyone in government, for that matter.

Phelps and Pak, for two supposed Libertarians, you're being awfully free with other people's private information here.  If Smith and Industry cannot attack the science and defeat it, or at least de-fang it, then he should shift his attack to the politics of the issue and not to the privacy of US Citizens.  Would either of you, had you participated in such a study, with a protection of privacy clause from the beginning, tolerate this behavior from your own elected officials?  Phelps, I know you wouldn't stand for it.  Pak, I've read enough of your posts to believe you wouldn't either.  Lamar Smith needs to leave the base data alone and achieve his political objectives in some other way.

Think of it this way.  In a tight political race, recounts and legal avenues of resolution have become the norm for deciding the outcome.  Would it be fair to assume, from your stance here, that you would be in favor of the government coming in and demanding not just to recount the votes, but to have each individual stand and identify their vote?  Of course not, one only needs the data obtained by the voting process, not the 'base' data that identifies the voters with a particular vote.  That is what Lamar is asking for, and he doesn't need it to either validate or invalidate the study findings.

pak152
pak152

"Who, Mr. Chairman? What legitimate scientific research can't already access this data? I have to assume you'll be passing this data to, excuse my language, industry hacks. To so blatantly be doing the bidding of this polluting industry is simply mind-boggling.""
classic example of how liberals handle arguments by using SIN tactics

S- Shift the subject.
I- Ignore the facts.
N- Name calling.


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

She's a liar and a crook.

Wanna regulate, torment and block, provide the science you base it on.  What is this, secret science?

friggin' idiot sycophants are the only ones who would object to the Scientific Method, and rely upon 9 out of 10 doctors.


mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

not a fan of Ms. Johnson, but have to say in this specific case she is right.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

EBJ is insane and pretty dim to boot.

That's really the only context you need.

manpanties
manpanties

she's doing the right thing here.  if researchers can't protect the phi of participants, then all research everywhere stops.  except maybe by force.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

EBJ wants to know to whom this data is going, but she didn't want us to know where the scholarship money was going to.


Pot, meet kettle.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

@pak152 

Disagree with your analogy pak152.  Do you actually trust Repubs who are the tools of big business to monitor and maintain the already questionable air we breath?  Just as she stated, you planning on turning this over to corporate hacks?  Couldn't agree with her more. 

FlyOnTheWall
FlyOnTheWall

@pak152  

Hmmm, sounds like a tactic that you are very familiar with and practice regularly ...

kduble
kduble

@pak152 There is neither a scientific need nor rationale to justify compromising the identity of study participants.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

@holmantx

 "They let an independent group of scientists attempt to poke holes in the conclusions and methods of the Harvard study. The group came away impressed, affirming the findings. In fact, it's now a model for air quality studies around the world."

Hard to argue findings from an independent study of scientists. 

Oh wait, let me guess the Repugnants will use laywers for their panle study.

schermbeck
schermbeck

@holmantx She's defending the confidentiality of study participants. Researchers and participants sign legally-binding documents that say the participant's individual identities in the study will not be revealed. Standard Science. The study was peer-reviewed and journal published. Another House Republican attempt to rollback the Clean Air Act.

JFPO
JFPO

You're funny when you get so upset you can barely put together a coherent sentence. I'm no EBJ fan, but you really want to defend Lamar Smith? Never mind, forgot who I was talking to for a minute.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog Then we can stop calling this "study" science.  Science that can't be scrutinized and duplicated isn't.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@everlastingphelps Don't make me defend her. No, I won't. But she has a point. Smith is grandstanding by intentionally, obtusely going to the subpoena arena. Granted that there aren't any real scientists on the Science committees, he could put the CBO or GAO onto a study for their opinion.

mcdallas
mcdallas

@kduble @pak152 "There is neither a scientific need nor rationale to justify compromising the identity of study participants." - NSA

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@ebailey75057 @holmantx

I think you meant to properly quote:

"They let an independent group of scientists who have nothing to do with Leftist, seriously, actually they are Republican scientists out of East Anglia, like, they have British accents 'n all, don't sound Texan, . . . who attempt to poke holes in the conclusions and methods of the Harvard study. The group came away like, really impressed, affirming the findings.  No shit man I'm seeeerious."

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@schermbeck @holmantx 

Bullshit; Confidentiality is already protected.  We need protection from the Administration making new law, which is the purview of the Congress.

pak152
pak152

@JFPO not a matter of defending Lamar Smith but rather that we get the information that we paid for with our taxes.

kduble
kduble

@everlastingphelps @mavdog  I'll admit it sounded odd to me as well, yet the article explains that "much of that data consisted of personal health information, and because the authors had promised the participants that they wouldn't drag their private lives into the public realm, they declined.”

The article goes on to explain, “EPA supplied the committee with data that had been "de-identified" to protect the privacy of the study participants. Apparently, that wasn't good enough for Smith. When asked to whom he would give this raw data to, he said "It wouldn't be fair to identify individuals or organizations."

Participants have their own reasons for not wanting their health information made public. Fortunately, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, insurers will no longer be permitted to price policies based on pre-existing conditions.

But, of course, Lamar Smith opposes the ACA, and by implication, opposes the provision that insurers not be allowed to consider pre-existing conditions. His position is that it should be repealed in its entirety, not just parts of it.

The identification of study participants has nothing to do with the exigency of its methods, or the validity of its conclusions. But, perhaps a compromise could entail making public the identity of all handgun purchasers public in exchange for identifying study participants.

pak152
pak152

@everlastingphelps@mavdog 

"This paper presents some of the results from cross-sectional analyses and studies during air pollution alerts obtained as a part of the Six-City Study, a longitudinal study of the respiratory effects of air pollution. These analyses illustrate some of the limitations and uncertainties of epidemiologic studies. For example, an earlier report noted increased respiratory illness rates for children living in homes where gas was used for cooking. A later analysis did not confirm this."

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3429658?uid=3739920&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102528864857

Comments on the updated Six Cities Study
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/6830328_Comments_on_the_updated_Harvard_Six_Cities_study

Rix1
Rix1

@ScottsMerkin @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul I have some nice blue pots. Maybe his pots are blue.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

@holmantx @ebailey75057 

Didn't mean that all.  My quote was copied and pasted directly from the original news report.  Where the hell did you get your copy from?  Oh thats right you created yours from thin air to further a personal agenda.  Doesn't matter whether its true or not, like the lies being told about fracking for oil and gas, if they tell the people enough that 1 +1 = 7 they will begin to believe it .  Like the Repugnants and their 40 times at bat to overturn already passed and approved legislation.  You want to continue wasting peoples time and money.  Excellent, how is that working out; not just for you,  but for all of us? 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

no, "congressional oversight" is looking at regulatory findings and intervening.

Smith is not doing anything close to that. He is attempting to provide information to unknown groups that have no right to the information.

and yes, clearly I am "playing with myself", as you lack the ability to understand the issue.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx 

It's called Congressional oversight.

In light of abusive regulatory actions, it's needed.

and stop playing with yourself.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx 

so the bottom line is you have no answer to why anybody would need access to the information on the participants in the study. clearly you have zero basis to support Smith in his quest.

you also fail to acknowledge your error in stating "the Administration making new law" as the power to issue regs on pollution was granted to the EPA by Congress in the Clean Air Act.

thanks for playing.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog 

You have Congress confused with Democrats using personal data in the regulatory agencies, such as the IRS, to politically persecute those you disagree with.

And it is this administration's stated policy to "interpret" existing law to act unilaterally if the Congress does not, that I refer to.  See: EPA, Justice, Immigration, OSHA, FBI and Fast and Furious.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx @schermbeck 

confidentiality of the participants is only protected if the base information the researchers collected isn't provided to anybody who would disclose such information for their own interests. any researcher who has desired to look at the numbers has been provided access, one needs to ask why does Smith wants to get to the base data?

oh, as far as the assertion of "the Administration making new law", apparently you are unaware of the Clean Air Act. Here it is, passed by Congress, authorzing the EPA to do just what it is doing.... http://www.epw.senate.gov/envlaws/cleanair.pdf

kduble
kduble

@pak152 @JFPO  We've got the information. The only thing undisclosed is the study participants. They were offered privacy in exchange for participation. The information we paid for didn't include the participants' names.

JFPO
JFPO

Please re-read. We already did. Smith is simply earning his "outside" income here.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@pak152 

if you have specific criteria from which you can impugn the Dr.'s credibility, go for it.

to suggest they are not honest just because you want to is not a very admirable trait.

pak152
pak152

@brantley.hargrove1 @everlastingphelps @mavdog 
have other scientists examined the raw data? have they been able to replicate it the results? and yes you mention the American Cancer Society but are they really independent and objective? this is much like Michael Mann and the scientists pushing climate changer. they won't share the raw data.
the key thing in the scientific method is the ability to replicate someone's experiment. if you can't replicate then provide the raw data

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

This review was performed by faculty at Harvard Med, Brigham & Womens, U of Ottawa, etc, and their work was peer reviewed.

there is no conflict of interest, it has "real scrutiny", and there has been over 2x the amount of time spent in the original study completed that validates the first set of data.

so no, they have done much more than "check their counting and arithmetic" of the original study.

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