U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/28/2005
Statement of Senator Lisa Murkowski
The Role of Science in Environmental Policy-Making

Mr. Chairman, thank you for scheduling this important hearing. I look forward to hearing from all our distinguished witnesses.

Our job is to understand issues, to make decisions based on our understanding, and to form public policy from those decisions.

Very often our subjects come from areas in which we have little personal involvement or expertise, so we necessarily depend on expert witnesses. They educate us on the range of viewpoints, present us with relevant facts, and if we are lucky, they cut through thickets of contradicting claims.

Unfortunately, we aren’t often that lucky. We’ve all watched eminent scientists provide only the parts of the story that suit them. We all know it’s human nature to for them to do so, no matter how illustrious their reputations. And most of us, I think, have learned that blowing smoke doesn’t always mean there is a fire. Sometimes it’s only smoke and mirrors.

The result of smoke and mirrors is bad decisions, whether they are made by Congress or by an executive branch agency. Bad decisions lead to bad policy, and bad policy leads to the loss of trust. And that, Mr. Chairman, is something we simply cannot afford. Not as individuals and not as a country.

As an Alaskan I’ve watched several episodes of poor decision-making based on poor information and resulting in poor policies and negative impacts to our fishing industry, or mining industry, our forest products industry and others. Real people are affected by those decisions.

Many of those decisions have been based on an approach often called the “precautionary principle.” This term is generally interpreted to mean one should take action to prevent harm even if “harm” has not yet been determined to exist, or there is still uncertainty about its cause.

The sentiment for that is laudable, but not always justifiable. From a science perspective, the first and most important “precautionary principle” may be to refrain from action unless both the harm and the efficacy of the proposed action are understood well enough to avoid unintended adverse consequences. .

I think this discussion is long overdue. Speculation on consequences – or remedies -- can a dangerous path, particularly when the proposed solutions themselves can be damaging to our interests. I look forward to the witnesses’ comments on the matter.