In bipartisan push, over 100 lawmakers urge Pruitt to withdraw his so-called transparency rule

Proposed rule would "hobble" EPA from implementing Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act.

More than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on June 6, 2018 urging him to withdraw his so-called transparency rule. CREDIT: Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images
More than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on June 6, 2018 urging him to withdraw his so-called transparency rule. CREDIT: Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plan to limit scientific research available to agency scientists and experts who draft regulations is attracting widespread resistance on Capitol Hill.

More than 100 members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — sent a letter to Pruitt, dated June 7, urging him to withdraw his so-called transparency rule. The proposal would create an “opaque process allowing EPA to selectively suppress scientific evidence without accountability and in the process undermine bedrock environmental laws,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

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The letter was signed by 103 House members, led by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Paul Tonko (D-IL), and Don Beyer (D-VA). Four Republicans, all members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, signed the letter: Reps. Carols Curbelo (FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), and Ryan Costello (PA).

The proposed rule “appears to be targeted at excluding important public health studies while privileging industry-sponsored research,” the bipartisan letter said. “The discretion it grants the administrator to grant case-by-case exemptions completely undermines the stated goal of transparency.”

The proposed rule requires that all data underlying the EPA’s regulatory actions be made publicly available to allow for independent validation.

But scientists fear that Pruitt’s new science standards will severely limit the kinds of public health studies that the agency can use when considering new rules, because many large-scale public health studies rely on anonymous data. That data is, by law, kept anonymous due to patient privacy policies — though the studies are still subject to the same kinds of peer-review process as studies that use publicly available data.

Once such piece of health research is a study known as Six Cities, which followed more than 8,000 participants for nearly 20 years and was key in establishing a link between chronic air pollution exposure and increased mortality.

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The results of this study have “stood up” to extensive subsequent analysis, the lawmakers said. But it also serves as an example of an entire class of studies that Pruitt’s rule would remove from consideration.

Excluding such health studies would “hobble” the agency’s ability to implement laws like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, they argued.

Nearly a thousand scientists and many leading scientific organizations have opposed the proposed rule since it was issued in late April.

The rule was originally inspired by climate science denier Lamar Smith (R-TX), the House Science, Space, and Technology Chairman who has for years been trying to push legislation through on the issue. The initiative, also known as the “secret science” rule, was picked up during a March meeting between Pruitt and the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank known for promoting climate science denial and which was instrumental in influencing Trump’s transition team.

In their letter on Thursday, the lawmakers also pointed out that the proposed rule is inconsistent with EPA’s statutory obligations to ground its actions on scientific evidence. The Toxic Substances Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, for example, require that EPA use the “best available science.” Courts have found this language to require that agencies “seek out and consider all existing scientific evidence” and not ignore existing data.

“This standard would be impossible to meet under the proposed rule,” they said.

The House members insisted they support transparency and scientific integrity. But the proposed rule — which they claimed lacks an “underlying rationale” — will have the opposite effect by undermining the scientific integrity and limiting transparency.