EPA pushes forward with rule to block studies on air and water pollution


The Environmental Protection Agency's fight against science continues even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to move forward with a rule that will make it harder for high-quality scientific studies to be used in policymaking, even as the coronavirus pandemic engulfing the country makes it more difficult for health care professionals to comment on the rule before it is finalized.

The rule, first introduced in 2018 and known formally as "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science," would require scientists to hand over the raw data underlying studies before the EPA would consider them. A slight revision of the rule, announced in March, stated that the agency would give preference to studies for which researchers hand over all raw data, according to the New York Times.

However, many of the data used in carrying out scientific studies contain confidential medical records that could identify individuals who participated, and scientists are unable to release that data due to confidentiality agreements.

The rule could be applied retroactively, limiting the use of previous research such as a landmark 1993 study that linked air pollution to health outcomes.

The effort "caps more than three years of efforts to dilute scientific research, especially on climate change and air pollution, which has underpinned rules that the fossil fuel industry calls burdensome," the Times reported in early March.

Public officials and health experts have requested that the EPA allow more time for public input as the coronavirus outbreak rages on.

Given the "significant disruption facing our nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EPA must extend the comment period to at least 120-days," a group of 13 state and city attorneys general wrote in a letter to administrator Andrew Wheeler on March 19.

More than a dozen medical and health organizations have also requested more time to comment.

In a March 18 letter to Wheeler, Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, wrote that "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 requested that the deadline be moved until 30 days after the government lifts the national emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the EPA announced it would allow just one additional month for the public to submit comments on the rule, making the new deadline May 18. In the announcement, Wheeler said that the EPA is "committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process."

Scientists slammed the decision.

Thirty extra days "is grossly inadequate to allow impacted communities and public health professionals to provide feedback," Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy, wrote on Friday. Halpern noted that "many of the scientists and scientific and community organizations most affected by the proposal will continue to be on the front lines of coronavirus response" through May.

Despite the pandemic, the EPA shows no signs of changing its rules-making processes.

On April 1, the agency rolled back Obama-era emissions standards for automobiles. According to the Associated Press, the new regulations allow new cars and trucks to get lower gas mileage than under the previous standards, will result in more air pollution, and will force drivers to spend more money on gas.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.