EPA’s Use of Scientific Studies Restricted

Date: March 19th, 2018

Agency: EPA, Federal

Explanation: Bias and Misrepresentation

Scientist: Other

On March 19, 2018, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a new “science transparency policy” that restricts the scientific studies used in agency rulemakings. Under the policy, EPA will no longer use studies incorporating non-public scientific data in rulemakings, as has been its longstanding practice.

Administrator Pruitt has argued that the new policy is needed to prevent the use of so-called “secret science” that cannot be tested by third parties. In an interview published in The Daily Caller, Administrator Pruitt said:

“If we use a third party to engage in scientific review or inquiry, and that’s the basis of rulemaking, you and every American citizen across the country deserve to know what’s the data, what’s the methodology that was used to reach that conclusion that was the underpinning of what — rules that were adopted by this agency.”

According to Pruitt, if a study’s data and methodology are not published, “it’s not transparent. It’s not [able to be] objectively measured, and that’s important.” Others, however, point out that the studies undergo peer review. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, former top EPA officials Gina McCarthy and Janet McCabe wrote:

“Peer review ensures that the analytic methodologies underlying studies funded by the agency are sound . . .

[Administrator Pruitt] and some conservative members of Congress are setting up a nonexistent problem in order to prevent the E.P.A. from using the best available science. These studies adhere to all professional standards and meet every expectation of the scientific community in terms of peer review and scientific integrity.”

McCarthy and McCabe also emphasized that the new policy would restrict the studies able to be used in EPA rulemakings. They wrote:

“Some of [the] studies [at issue], particularly those that determine the effects of exposure to chemicals and pollution on health, rely on medical records that by law are confidential because of patient privacy policies. These studies summarize the analysis of raw data and draw conclusions based on that analysis. Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy . . .

 For instance, foundational epidemiological research into the effects of air pollution on health by scientists at Harvard and the American Cancer Society established a clear connection between exposure to fine particles and increased mortality. This research led to further studies that supported the development of air quality standards and rules requiring industry to reduce pollution, improving health and reducing costs for millions of Americans.

Yet, because the personal health data associated with individuals participating in the studies were obtained with guarantees of confidentiality, Mr. Pruitt apparently would have argued for those studies to be tossed out had he been at the helm then.”

UpdateOn April 24, 2018, Administrator Pruitt signed a proposed rule intended to implement the “science transparency policy.” The rule provides that, “when EPA develops regulations, including regulations for which the public is likely to bear the cost of compliance, with regard to those scientific studies that are pivotal to the action being taken, EPA should ensure that the data underlying those are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

On May 17, 2018, E&E News reported that the science transparency policy “closely resemble[s]” proposals put forward by industry groups, including the National Association of Manufactures and American Petroleum Institute.