Fast-tracking deregulation, EPA pays no heed to virus pandemic

WASHINGTON (CN) — As worries mount over the disjointed U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is taking deliberate steps on another issue, ramping up deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Revisiting a rule first proposed in 2018, the EPA posted a supplemental notice last week that puts the rule on track to finalization. Beginning a 30-day clock for public comments, the notice describes a significantly broadened scope for the rule with the innocuous title “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.”

If put into effect, the rule would require disclosure of the raw data behind any scientific study used in the rulemaking process. As relayed by some of the nearly 600,000 comments the proposed rule has fielded to date, experts say the rule will make it impossible to draw on public health studies in the future to regulate proven health threats.

Another concern is that the data could disclose confidential medical records that could be used to identify people.

Citing the rule’s complexity and America’s ongoing emergency over the novel coronavirus Covid-19, California Environmental Protection Secretary Jared Blumenfeld urged the agency last week to extend the comment period by another 90 days.

“Under the current extraordinary circumstances of a national public health emergency, providing full review and comment … within 30 days is extremely burdensome if not impossible,” Blumenfeld wrote. “The coronavirus has affected all aspects of American life and has forced organizations large and small to adjust daily resources and reallocate resources.”

In another letter, Andrew Rosenberg, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, urged that the comment period be extended by 90 days and that the EPA hold three virtual hearings on the rule.

“First, bringing this extensive proposal forward during the Covid-19 pandemic is reckless and would divert critical public health expertise from the singular mission of protecting the public and controlling the pandemic,” Rosenberg wrote. “Public health experts whose input is essential to the evaluation of this proposal are the same experts responding to the public health emergency and should not be pulled from that duty.”

Rosenberg underscored the financial implications of the rule, as well, noting that the administration concluded that a similar legislative rule was not economically feasible after the Congressional Budget Office estimated its cost at around $250 million annually.

“Third, more time is needed because the administrative record for this rulemaking fails to address impacts of the proposed rule, including the types and amount of studies that would be affected, the costs that the proposed rule would impose on the agency and individual researchers,” Rosenberg wrote.

Back when the rule was first proposed in 2018, Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, commented that the EPA hadn’t provided any analysis on the rule’s potential impacts.

“These draft regulations are proposed to apply to ‘dose response data and models underlying pivotal regulatory science that are used to justify significant regulatory decisions,’ made by EPA,” Bell wrote. “Our ability to comment meaningfully on the broad scope of this proposed rule, which affects the science that EPA relies upon for all of its significant decisions, will require extensive and careful analysis.”

Wheeler said in a statement March 3 that additional clarifications will ensure that the agency’s decision-making process remains transparent.

“I am committed to ensuring that the science underlying EPA’s actions is of the highest quality,” Wheeler said in a statement. “When finalized, the science transparency rule will ensure that pivotal studies underpinning significant regulatory actions at the EPA, regardless of their source, are available for transparent review by qualified scientists.”