In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule with the misleading title of “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” We’ve been calling it the “Censored Science” rule, because it proposes to censor the peer-reviewed scientific research that EPA can consider when regulating harmful pollutants.
The proposal requires that when the EPA uses a scientific study to support pollution standards, the studies it relies on must use publicly available data – potentially including personal medical data.
More than 600,000 comments were received on the proposed rule. So many problems were raised that EPA made the unusual move of issuing a supplemental proposed rule last month to “clarify” issues in their so-called transparency proposal. The supplemental rule does not address the most problematic aspects of the original proposed rule. Moreover, EPA declined to host a public hearing for this rule, significantly limiting public input at a time when health professionals, health scientists, and the public at large is grappling with a global pandemic, and already limited in our ability to respond to this consequential proposal.
This week, the Union of Concerned Scientists hosted a virtual public hearing on the EPA’s supplemental proposal, a shadow hearing of sorts, stepping in to provide a platform for key stakeholders at a time when Trump’s EPA would not do so. My colleague Trisha Dello Iacono and I delivered testimony at this virtual hearing. What follows are excerpts from our testimony.
From Molly Rauch’s testimony:
The Censored Science proposal would force EPA staff to ignore studies that use private datasets. This, when much of the research on the health effects of pollution relies on data that needs to be kept private — things like birth dates, home addresses, and medical diagnoses. Researchers are rightly required to keep this kind of information private. And it’s precisely this kind of private data that has informed some of the most important, large scale, and groundbreaking research on the health impacts of pollution. In fact, it’s the same type of data that underlies the research that told us secondhand smoke was unsafe.
The censored science proposal is the cornerstone in a large–scale attack on health science at EPA, and specifically the scientific process of Clean Air Act rulemaking. We have seen this so far most clearly with the science advisory process for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Some of the changes we have seen include: Disbanding advisory panels, rushing scientific review without adequate expertise, barring EPA–funded scientists from serving on advisory panels while creating no equivalent limits on the appointment of industry–funded scientists, and so on. If this EPA truly wanted to take more care with analysis, we would not be seeing a wholesale disregard for science in every other aspect of the NAAQS work.
This rule attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The peer review process is already happening. EPA already has the capacity to evaluate the strength of studies. EPA already uses the best available science and engages in extensive processes to ensure that the best science informs policy. The process laid out in the supplementary proposal is simply unnecessary and would be a huge waste of time and resources. As experts at UCS have pointed out, this would provide the benefit of an arithmetic check.
In the proposed supplemental, the EPA Administrator has the sole authority to exempt studies from this unnecessary and blanket censorship process. But putting this option in her or his hands means that this is not a scientific process but a political process.
Right now, the country is facing an unprecedented global health crisis. People’s lives are upended all across the country. We are relying on the scientific expertise of health researchers more than ever. We are seeing how strong science helps us make the best decisions we can for the health of our children, our families, and our communities.
If we have learned anything in the last weeks, it’s that we must listen to scientists and learn everything we can about threats to our communities to make the best decisions. This is no time to engage in a stealth operation aimed at censoring the scientific underpinnings of our nation’s health regulations.
From Trisha Dello Iacono’s testimony:
As the coronavirus crisis worsens across the country, the EPA should be making a special effort to listen to the voices of scientists and public health experts to make decisions that will protect our health in the face of this pandemic– not make us sicker. This proposal put forth by the Trump administration constrains and undermines scientific integrity and the sound voice of scientists. This is an attack on science while the country is grappling with a global pandemic.
Moms Clean Air Force members across the country have been speaking out by the thousands against the proposal since it was first introduced two years ago. The latest revision to the proposal is just as problematic as when it was first introduced, and we remain deeply concerned about the implications for protecting children from pollution.
American families depend on the EPA’s consideration of high-quality science to protect us from the impacts of air pollution and toxic chemicals. This proposal would summarily exclude certain types of public health research from consideration, placing the health of our children at risk.
Limiting the scientific information the EPA can use to identify public health threats and protect us from pollution is reckless and dangerous. Not only does this proposal compel EPA to subject high-quality research to extreme, unnecessary and untenable levels of disclosure – but it also includes loopholes that would allow the Administration to exempt industry from having to disclose details of their own studies.
My own family was exposed to a toxic chemical after a horrifying accident in my community that left us breathing polluted air and poisoned my family. As a mom who has witnessed her children’s health deteriorate due to polluted air they were breathing, I know personally what it is like to rely on scientific studies and sound science whose data informed us during that horrifying time. And again, during this coronavirus pandemic, my family is relying on sound science to keep us safe.
On behalf of my family, and Moms Clean Air Force’s 1 million members, I strongly urge EPA to withdraw this dangerous proposal. – for the health and safety of our children.