Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA bill would amp up science disclosure by enviro agencies

by Matt Rosenberg February 21st, 2012

A “show your work” bill which earlier this month cleared the Washington State House of Representatives by a 97-0 vote and is now under consideration in the Senate’s Government Operations Committee would require Washington’s departments of ecology, and fish and wildlife, to disclose online an index of supporting peer-reviewed scientific literature for every major proposed rule, policy, guidelines or guidance document they are going to issue. ESHB 2335 was heard Monday in the Senate committee and is backed by interests including the Washington Retail Association, the American Chemistry Council, Schnitzer Steel and the Washington Small Agriculture Producer Coalition. Opponents include the Umatilla Tribe.

A senate bill report adds that the Department of Ecology supports the intent of the bill but not the bill itself because of the fiscal impact, which the most recent fiscal note on the bill estimates at $523,520 from 2012 through 2017. The bill report says the Department of Fish and Wildlife also supports the intent but is concerned about the measure’s scope, which it says could extend to the setting of fishing and hunting catch limits. The House sponsors of the legislation were Rep. Shelly Short (R-7th), Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-33rd), and Rep. Larry Springer (D- 45th). For the bill to stay alive, it must be approved by the Senate committee by this coming Friday Feb. 24th. The last meeting of the committee now scheduled by then is for Feb. 23.

The bill states in part that, “…public benefit is derived from greater transparency as to what scientific information, data or records are being used to inform public policy or relied upon in agency decision making….” Although there’s a “generally accepted approach” to ensure scientific material used for policy making has undergone the peer review process used in scientific journals, the state has no “uniform standard” for its use, the bill says.

The bill says peer-reviewed literature, other scientific and other literature used by the two agencies in decision making would have to be posted to their Web sites in the form of an index of articles or documents used, and made available in full at the outset of any comment period on a proposed rule or regulation, although not necessarily online.

The legislation goes on to specify key components of the peer-review process including qualifications and impartiality of experts involved; scientific methods used; and entities through which peer review occurs, such as scholarly and scientific journals and national academies.

In testimony to the House Committee on Environment prior to the bill’s amendment and passage by the full House, Brad Tower, representing Arrow Launch Service of Port Angeles, Wash., and Schnitzer Steel of Tacoma, said:

…my hope for this legislation…is (departments) will start to weigh more heavily those independent scientific documents and the peer-reviewed information. You’re swimming in information these days when you make these large policy decisions, and so we need to start to up the level of quality of the information we rely on…

Testimony by Tower is in the video below from TVW, Washington state’s public affairs, non-profit TV channel. It is sandwiched by testimony from other witnesses including Rob Huff of Ecology and Bruce Wishart of People For Puget Sound (expressing concerns), Dick Wishart of the Washington Small Agriculture Producer Coalition (supporter) and Steve Robinson of the Umatilla Tribe (opponent).

In a phone interview today Rep. Short said she thought the bill’s chances for passage in the Senate Government Operations Committee Thursday were good, in part because an amendment is likely to be added clarifying it wouldn’t apply to matters such as catch limits, discharge permits or other “on the ground decisions” of the two agencies. It would then go to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where she said it’s “chances are a lot less certain.”

Track the bill here.

UPDATE, 2/24/12: ESHB 2335 was approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee yesterday with the planned amendments and now must be approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee before advancing to the full Senate for a vote. Here is the Senate Bill report reflecting the GovOps Committee’s final amendments.

RELATED: Public Data Ferret’s Open Science archive is a compendium of articles reporting on recent peer-reviewed scientific literature related to public policy issues in Washington state and the U.S.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News; Donate.

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