Trump's EPA is fighting to dismiss input from scientists

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Even the science advisory board of the Environmental Protection Agency, which includes several Trump appointees, is questioning the agency's approach.

Even with the coronavirus pandemic raging, the Trump administration is pushing forward its anti-science agenda. The attacks on science have become so blatant that even some of Donald Trump's own appointees are sounding the alarm.

The latest attempt comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is working to implement a new rule that would block the use of high-quality scientific research on air and water pollution in policy-making. The proposed rule would force EPA policymakers to give preference to studies for which researchers turn over every piece of underlying data. However, such raw data often includes medical records and other personally identifiable information protected by law that would prevent researchers from turning it over.

The rule is so flawed that the EPA's science advisory board, which includes several Trump appointees, is questioning the agency's approach.

"It is plausible that in some situations, the Proposed Rule will decrease efficiency and reduce scientific integrity," the board said in an April 24 letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The advisory board's Trump appointees include many anti-environmental activists.

One of the Trump appointees, John Christy, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, does not believe climate change is related to human activity.

Another of Trump's appointees on the board, Barbara Beck, has questioned whether lead exposure is all that harmful to children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that any lead in children's bloodstream is harmful.

When the proposed rule was initially put forward in 2018, it was written to exclude any research that did not include all underlying data. It was revised in March 2020 to make the policy a preference rather than a ban.

The advisory board letter did not recommend dropping the rule, but expressed "concerns about the scientific and technical challenges of implementing some requirements of the Proposed Rule," including those for releasing data.

"There is minimal justification provided in the Proposed Rule for why existing procedures and norms utilized across the U.S. scientific community, including the federal government, are inadequate," the board's letter stated.

The group said that the EPA should explain why it wanted to set different standards for its use of scientific studies compared to other federal agencies. It warned that the EPA "risks serious and perverse outcomes" if it refuses to engage in a more "robust analysis" of its proposed rule.

As it stands, opponents fear the rule is broad enough to be used to prevent key research, including a 1993 study linking health outcomes and air pollution, from being used to make policy.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have criticized what they see as the intent of the rule.

"The chemical and fossil fuel industries cringe every time a scientific study is published showing a correlation between a synthetic contaminant and an increased risk of cancer or other diseases in people," David Andrews, a scientist with the Environmental Working Group, said about the rule in November. "The EPA under Trump and Administrator Wheeler is callously and recklessly undermining science to protect polluters. The public health implications of this proposed rule, should it get enacted, are almost incalculable."

Attacks on science are nothing new for Trump and his administration officials.

In April 2019, Wheeler dismissed a study written and published by EPA scientists about the impact of climate change.

"Just because our scientists publish something in a journal doesn't mean that that's agency policy or all the other scientists at the agency agree with that particular study," Wheeler said at the time, while admitting that he hadn't read the study.

In November 2018, Wheeler criticized scientists involved in compiling a multi-agency 1,600-page report on the impacts of climate change, saying, "I wouldn't be surprised if the Obama administration told the report's authors to take a look at the worst case scenario for this report." Wheeler, who was acting EPA administrator at the time, also complained that the report did not praise coal enough.

In 2018, a survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists polled 63,000 scientific experts at more than a dozen federal agencies. The survey found that most respondents felt the administration "often disregards science in and excludes agency scientific staff from decision-making even when legally bound to consider such evidence."

Further, half of those who responded reported that "consideration of political interests hindered their agencies' ability to make science-based decisions."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.