Trump's EPA Wants To Dramatically Restrict The Science It Uses

Scott Pruitt at podium speaking
EPA chief Scott Pruitt is expected to announce his plan today to overhaul the agency's use of science. @EPA Twitter
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27 April, 2018

"Badly flawed research on the human health effects of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) conducted during the 1980s and 1990s was used to justify regulations forcing thousands of corporations and hundreds of coal-powered electricity generation plants to close", he said.

Adopting a strategy successfully employed by the tobacco industry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a sweeping new regulation that would restrict the kinds of scientific studies the agency can use in developing its regulations.

The Trump administration launched an attack on the science behind numerous nation's clean air and clean water rules, announcing a proposal Tuesday that would effectively prevent regulators from considering a wide range of health studies when they look at new regulations.

Pruitt, in his announcement, said it was "a banner day".

The proposed rule calls for the EPA to ensure that the data underlying proposed regulatory actions is publicly available in a way that can be independently analyzed and validated.

The new policy would be based on proposed legislation spearheaded by House Science Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas who denies mainstream climate change science.

It is also similar to Smith's failed Science Advisory Board Reform Act.

In the 2002 case, brought by the American Trucking Associations, Inc., two judges appointed by Ronald Reagan and one named by Bill Clinton wrote that they agreed with the agency that such a requirement "would be impractical and unnecessary".

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But critics of the policy, including former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, say the new rule could undermine rules meant to protect public health because the studies used to support those rules rely on private health data. Critics also say the rule undermines the ethical process used in the scientific method itself.

"The critics of this move understand that the Endangerment Finding and other over-reaching regulations are based on black box "secret science" that can not stand up to prudent review", she said.

The Environmental Protection Network, a group of former EPA employees, issued a report Tuesday stating that many older studies - in which the original data sets were either not maintained or stored in outdated formats - would be eliminated under the proposed rule. It would drastically limit the kinds of studies available to regulators crafting the agency's air and water regulations, because many of these studies rely on sensitive medical records that can not be made public, or may be owned by private institutions not keen on publishing proprietary information. "This rule isn't about 'scientific transparency.' It's about undermining public health and the environment".

Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy was among those accusing Pruitt of pursuing the ban in an effort to "cripple" his own agency.

In letter dated to the administrator, a total of 985 scientists, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, urged Pruitt to toss the proposal. They argue that it could fundamentally alter how the EPA does business, including how the agency uses public health research. "The ability to test, authenticate, and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of rulemaking process. The result will be policies and practices that will ignore significant risks to the health of every American", the letter stated.

Tuesday's event was live streamed on the EPA's website but reporters were not in the room.

This view was shared by two top officials at the EPA during the Obama administration.

The rule will remain open to public comment for 30 days.


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