Amid demands for greater transparency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responded to a subpoena from a congressional committee for decades-old data on the health effects of air pollution. Both EPA officials and staff members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology told ScienceInsider that documents changed hands late on 19 August, the deadline set by the subpoena. But neither side is saying exactly what the documents included, or predicting whether they will satisfy demands made by the panel’s Republican majority.
EPA’s move is a response to demands by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the science panel’s chairman, for more transparency in evaluating the science used to underpin the agency’s air pollution regulations. On 1 August, the panel voted along party lines to approve a subpoena for raw data from the Harvard Six Cities Study and an American Cancer Society study known as “Cancer Prevention Study II.” Republicans say that the data is needed to independently evaluate EPA’s regulatory approach.
Democrats vehemently objected to the subpoena, however, arguing that making the raw data public would violate confidentiality agreements with study participants and subject the research to attack from representatives of polluting industries. In a letter of opposition, committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) questioned whether the committee was qualified to handle the sensitive health data. It is unclear whether EPA’s response contains any data, such as death dates, that might enable a reviewer to identify participants.
In a 1 August meeting, Smith said the committee might subpoena the two research institutions, and not just EPA, if the agency’s data proved inadequate.
Meanwhile, this week EPA also responded to a separate request for data related to other air pollution studies from Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The release of information related to a 2009 study is “the first in what is anticipated to be a series of responses,” panel Republicans said in a statement.