Farm Bill Deal Could Include Dangerous Provision to Undermine Agency Actions

A dangerous House “Sound Science” bill, H.R. 1287, that was largely incorporated into the House-passed farm bill could end up in the final farm bill conference agreement between the House and Senate. Despite the misleading title, there is nothing “sound” or “scientific” about this provision, which would place regulatory agencies, including independent agencies, in a stranglehold and make it virtually impossible for them to fulfill their lawful missions.  It would also make agency science subject to judicial meddling, and greatly increase the power of wealthy special interests to weaken, delay or eliminate public protections. 

The provision would:

  • Make it nearly impossible for all federal agencies, including independent agencies like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to use science effectively to inform their decisions and protect public health, safety, and the environment.
  • Halt any agency determination of risk or guidance document promulgated after January 1, 2014, until an agency develops guidelines that achieve the bill’s onerous goals.  Each agency’s guidelines must be approved by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. At best, this is busy work that would drain the resources of agencies already facing budget cuts.  At worst, it would slow agency work and result in detrimental delays to rulemakings and guidance documents.
  • Greatly strengthen the power of special interests to delay and weaken public protections.  Any policy decision can be challenged for failing to comply with these burdensome guidelines.  Courts would be directed to interpret noncompliance with the guidelines to mean that an agency’s action was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”  This would give corporations much more power to challenge agency risk assessment and guidance documents, and win in court.
  • Require that the “relevant scientific findings” that are the foundation for an agency proposed rule be subject to public comment.  But, proposed rules include their scientific basis, and the entire proposed rule is already subject to an extensive public comment process.

The Center for Media and Democracy has explained, “sound science advocates are not interested in ‘good science’, objectivity, or even ‘sound’ science practices, but in politicizing science to support a specific viewpoint, often relying on testimonials from their own hired, special interest ‘experts.’” Such a harmful, broad provision does not belong in the final farm bill. Farm bill conferees are expected to vote on a final agreement in early January. Let’s hope the package does not include this unsound science provision.

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