When Scott Pruitt, the disgraced former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, proposed the so-called “science transparency” rule in early 2018, it was roundly panned by public health experts and scientists alike. A bipartisan group of more than 100 lawmakers urged Pruitt to scrap the proposed regulation.
Opponents expressed concern at the time that the rule — which sought to limit the types of scientific research the EPA could use in its rulemaking — would impel regulators to ignore some of the best available public health research and ultimately make it more difficult to enact new environmental regulations.
But according to The New York Times, the Trump administration has appeared to have ignored the criticism and is seeking to significantly expand the scope of the proposed measure, also known as the “secret science rule.”
The Times said Monday that it had reviewed a draft of the latest iteration of the rule ― a copy of which was published by the paper.
Earlier versions of the rule would have only applied to a specific type of public health research known as “dose-response” studies, in which toxicity levels are studied in animals or humans. But the revised rule ― which the Times said was currently being reviewed by the White House ― would reportedly require scientists to disclose raw data for nearly every study the EPA considers in its rulemaking process, including confidential medical records.
The Times said the rule would also be applied retroactively to existing environmental regulations.
“It was hard to imagine that they could have made this worse, but they did,” Michael Halpern, deputy director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Times after reviewing the draft proposal.
Halpern’s colleague, Andrew Rosenberg, added in a statement that if the revised rule is finalized, “it would be one of the most damaging and far-reaching policy changes enacted by the administration.”
“It would put the entire enterprise of developing science-based public health safeguards at risk,” Rosenberg said.
EPA officials, who have previously defended the rule as being necessary to “ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders,” lambasted the Times’ coverage of the draft proposal.
The agency told CNN in a statement that the Times’ report “has numerous errors” ― though it did not elaborate on which parts of the article were erroneous.
The Times story “is based on a leaked preliminary draft version of the Supplemental, not the actual text submitted to the [Office of Management and Budget],” the EPA added in its statement, noting the agency would issue a final rule in 2020.
Experts have warned that the proposed measure could threaten clean air and water regulations ― which, as CNN notes, are largely based on public health studies that contain confidential medical information.
“Let’s call this what it is: an excuse to abandon clean air, clean water, and chemical safety rules. This new restriction on science would upend the way we protect communities from pollution and other health threats,” Rosenberg said.
“The EPA has one job ― to protect public health and the environment, based on the best available science. With this proposal, [EPA’s Administrator Andrew Wheeler] has effectively announced that he’s abandoning that mission,” Rosenberg added.