Trump's E.P.A. to Limit How Much Science Is Used to Write Public Health Rules

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour/Public Domain
JakeThomas

The Trump administration is preparing to limit scientific and medical research the Environmental Protection Agency has traditionally used to inform its public health rules, according to The New York Times — even more significantly than originally anticipated.

A new draft of the proposal, called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, “would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions.”

The proposal would also apply retroactively, meaning some of the most fundamental studies informing regulations that target air and water quality could be tossed from the mix.

The Times noted “a groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University project that definitively linked polluted air to premature deaths, currently the foundation of the nation’s air-quality laws, could become inadmissible.” The research, known as the Six Cities study, included “the private medical and occupational histories of more than 22,000 people in six cities” — all of whom signed confidentiality agreements.

A similar study conducted by the American Cancer Society in 1995, which confirmed the Harvard research results with an analysis of 1.2 million people, would also face the chopping block.

The Times said both studies appear to be the inspiration for the Trump administration’s move.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Congress in September that the proposal is meant to increase transparency in the manner in which regulations are developed.

“Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny,” Wheeler said. “That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”

Opponents of the proposal disagree, saying the move will only make it easier for officials to roll back regulations that protect the American people.

“This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, told The Times.

Industry groups, on the other hand, are pleased with the proposal and claim it will afford the public a greater understanding of the science used to justify regulations that cost them money.

The Times noted that the latest draft of the proposal appears to take none of the opposition’s concerns into consideration, while delivering plenty to industry groups.

“It was hard to imagine that they could have made this worse, but they did,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, adding, “This is a wholesale politicization of the process.”

Administration officials hope to have the rule finalized sometime next year.

Read the full report.

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