(Courthouse News) EPA administrator Scott Pruitt proposed a new rule Tuesday which could change how scientific data is used by the agency to write public health regulations and could, in effect, remove a huge swath of peer-reviewed studies on air pollution, pesticides and more from the agency’s record.
Pruitt announced the proposed rule during a live-stream event Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota stood beside Pruitt during the announcement.
Smith, head of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has unsuccessfully proposed two bills in the past which attempted similar feats laid out in the proposed rule: Force the EPA to rely exclusively on research where none of the data was derived from anonymous sources.
The argument, made previously by Smith and now by Pruitt, is that any research compiled by anonymous sources in a study is a threat to transparency at the EPA and fails to appropriately weigh the “magnitude of the benefit-cost calculation” of regulations, the proposal states.
Much of the rule’s language is based around Rep. Smith’s failed legislation, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act, or the HONEST Act.
It is also similar to Smith’s failed Science Advisory Board Reform Act.
Though both bills cleared the House, they died in the Senate.
Anonymity in studies is often the result of an agreement between a scientist and a human test subject who wishes to keep their personal information private.
If the EPA’s rule is successful and any research compiled this way is removed, it means public data on critical research is diluted. Critics also say the rule undermines the ethical process used in the scientific method itself.
But Pruitt disagrees.
Removing “secret science,” he argues, is the best way to serve the public interest.
“The best available science must serve as the foundation of EPA’s regulatory actions,” the proposed rule states. “Enhancing the transparency and validity of the scientific research relied upon by EPA strengthens the integrity of EPA’s regulatory actions and its obligation to ensure the agency is not arbitrary in its conclusions. By better informing the public, the agency is enhancing the public’s ability to understand and meaningfully participate in the regulatory process.”
If finalized, it would mean that research like Douglas Dockery’s 1993 study, “An Association between Air Pollution and Mortality in Six U.S. Cities,” – which has been widely used as the basis to understanding the correlation between premature death and air pollution – would be wiped from the agency record simply because the data was derived from anonymous participants.
During the press conference, Pruitt celebrated the proposal saying it marked a “red-letter day” for the EPA. He also dubbed the agency’s tradition of relying on these types of studies as “wrongheaded.”
In letter dated to the administrator, a total of 985 scientists, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, urged Pruitt to toss the proposal.
“EPA can only adequately protect our air and water and keep us safe from harmful chemicals if it takes full advantage of the wealth of scientific research that is available to the agency,” the scientists wrote.
During Tuesday’s announcement, Pruitt defended the proposed rule, saying it would improve the agency’s “ability to test, authenticate and reproduce scientific findings.”
But this is a “phony” premise, the scientists argue.
“Proponents for these radical restrictions purport to raise two sets of concerns: reproducibility and transparency. In reality, these are phony issues that weaponize ‘transparency’ to facilitate political interference in science-based decisionmaking, rather than genuinely address either. The result will be policies and practices that will ignore significant risks to the health of every American,” the letter stated.
Though the rule champions transparency, the proposal announcement didn’t come with much of its own: Pruitt’s announcement, while live streamed, was closed to reporters, according to multiple media outlets.
The EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.
The rule will remain open to public comment for 30 days.