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Integrity in Science Means Integrity in Energy Policy, Too

The 110th Congress has fought hard to restore the role of science in federal policy making after years of abuse at the hands of the Bush administration. But according to Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), chairman of the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, the “vigilant protection of the integrity of science” cannot relax after the November elections. “Science should inform Congress’s decisions,” he said last week at a conference on integrity in science hosted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “What should never be negotiable,” he said, “is that the science that informs us is honest.”

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of CSPI, opened the event by emphasizing that politicians must “allow facts to drive policymaking, not the other way around.” Merrill Goozner, the director of CSPI’s the Integrity in Science project, remained optimistic, stating that the group wanted to look forward rather than backwards. He called for the federal government to take an increased role “if our nation is going to curb many of the [scientific] challenges that lie ahead.”

The conference covered a variety of topics, including curbing industry influence on regulatory science, conservation, and conflicts of interest, but one major topic of conversation was renewable energy. Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security spoke of the need for Congress to mandate that every new car sold in America be “flexible”—able to run on multiple sources of energy rather than only on gasoline. Ken Zweibel of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory then argued that solar and wind energy “are a lot closer to economic reality than people realize.”

Integrity in the science that informs renewable energy policy making is a critical issue, as recent years have seen many officials and the Bush administration downplay the reality of global climate change and delay serious efforts to invest in renewable energy. For example, the Illinois FutureGen project, which was supposed to create the world’s first near-zero emissions coal plant, had its funding removed one day after Bush’s 2008 State of the Union address in which he argued that the country should “fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions.”

But the most recent disregard of scientific evidence in crafting energy policy is in the national discussion over offshore oil drilling. Just yesterday, President Bush lifted executive orders that ban on off-shore oil drilling. A legislative moratorium still bars companies from drilling on the continental shelf, but the scientific and economic reality is that offshore drilling will not yield more oil for many years, and that oil would then be sold on the world market, reducing domestic oil prices by an insignificant amount. The Center for American Progress has a full ten reasons why lifting the ban on offshore drilling is such a bad idea. As Congress considers lifting the ban, they should heed Rep. Miller’s words and let science inform their decisions.

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