In an exciting victory for public health, a Montana judge this week vacated EPA’s recently-finalized Censored Science rule. With that, science has officially returned to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Censored Science rule was a ruse crafted by industry lobbyists to try to sideline some of the most important science linking air pollution to serious health harms. The rule, finalized by former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in the last days of the Trump administration, tried to constrain the types of studies that EPA could use when setting pollution standards.
The ruse went something like this: The public should have unfettered access to the data used by research scientists – even if the data includes private medical information that is illegal to disclose. If the underlying data is unavailable to the public, EPA would be barred from using the study. The rule claimed to be “increasing transparency” in regulatory decisions. But – go figure – those studies most likely to be barred included the large-scale epidemiology studies based on enormous datasets. These are precisely the kinds of studies that show troubling correlations between pollution exposure, even at low levels, and devastating health outcomes such as stroke and death. In other words, those studies most likely to be barred include the very studies that show the true scale of the health harms of industrial pollution.
The rule was never about increasing transparency. Instead it was about making pollution seem less bad for our health than it really is. It was just one of several anti-science efforts undertaken by Trump’s EPA, which also set about dismantling the scientific committees that advise EPA regulators, and creating guidelines that favored industry scientists over academic scientists for those few science advisory positions that remained.
In its zeal to justify and finalize a rule that was a blatant handout to polluters, Trump’s EPA also made several procedural missteps, including claiming that the rule was immediately effective upon its publication in the Federal Register (on January 6, 2021), instead of waiting the legally-required 30 days. President Biden has committed to reestablishing science as the foundation of federal policies; now, he has a much clearer path to realizing this goal. The Censored Science rule is officially cancelled. As a colleague put it, “Ding dong, the rule is dead.”
Welcome back to EPA, science. We missed you.