YOU can hold Congress accountable (via the Congressional Research Service)
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is part of the Library of Congress. Founded in 1914, the service provides legislators with nonpartisan analysis and research relevant to policy making. Traditionally, these relatively concise reports were meant solely for Congress, and unless someone leaked one, were not for public consumption. However, as part of the 2018 appropriations package, Congress decided to let the people see the research our tax money funds.
Taxpayers can now search for topics and see what research is informing policymakers. These aren’t new cutting-edge research products, but instead summarize the state of science and/or regulatory affairs. They’re a combination of wonky policy jargon that references specific statutes and Federal Register filings with high-level overviews.
Basically, if you’re a senator looking to figure out what some new issue is all about, you can turn to the CRS for explanation. But now, if you’re a reporter or a scientist trying to figure out what Trump’s latest regulatory rollback entails, the history behind it, the rules in place it’s replacing, and the tricks they’re using to justify it, CRS could be a great resource.
A search for “climate change,” for example, yields 18 different reports so far this year. One is a 40-page FAQ on car mileage and greenhouse gas standards that explains not only the current standards and how manufacturers comply with them, but also how both NHTSA and EPA have authority over them, and how California’s special exemption works. A much longer 117 page report on Changes in the Arctic, meanwhile, provides Congress with the region’s history, US policy around it, the Arctic Council governing it, how climate change is impacting it, oil and gas mining in it, and more.
If you’re confused about Glider Kits, there’s a report for that. Renewable fuel standards? There’s an overview on them. How the Trump EPA changed the cost benefit analysis to justify repealing the Clean Power Plan? It’s all here!
CRS reports even cover some of the very basics, like a report providing additional context for the 2017 federal climate science special report, which traces the how the science of climate change has evolved over the past nearly 200 years.
While the content itself is not particularly groundbreaking, it’s interesting to know that when someone like Rep Lamar Smith casts doubt on climate science by saying, as the report quotes, that he believes “significant questions remain as to the extent” of human causation, he’s not only denying hundreds of years of science, but also ignoring a report written specifically to educate him on this topic.
And since this report was written by Congress’s own special research service, which has operated as a bipartisan resource for both parties since 1914, with an agenda solely of informing policymakers to help them make decisions based on all possible information, there’s no credible way to allege bias. CRS works for both parties, and even the baseless claims that scientists are pro-warming because they’re chasing EPA grants falls flat, since CRS employes wouldn’t benefit from promoting alarmism.
Has Smith read this report, which cites his denial as the very first footnote? We’re not sure, but it sure would be interesting to know. If he’s read it, does he still deny that fossil fuels cause climate change? Given that the report couldn’t find any scientific institution that disputes the consensus, then on what evidence is his doubt based?
If he hasn’t read the couple-dozen-page summary, then why is he letting taxpayer-funded work go to waste?
This, perhaps, is the real value of the CRS reports becoming public: holding Congress accountable.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)