The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reportedly planning to further restrict the use of scientific evidence in rule-making. The plans are inspired by efforts championed by one of Congress’ most notorious climate science deniers, House Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).
The EPA’s initiative was discussed during a closed-door meeting on March 15 at 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 — E&E News reported Friday.
If adopted, the plan would require the EPA to rely only on scientific studies where the underlying data used by the researchers is made public. The impact would be to impose a dramatic burden on EPA officials effectively limiting their ability to introduce new protections for health and the environment.
It comes amidst an ongoing effort by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to limit the input from scientists in favor of industry.
The idea for the new plan comes from Smith who has for years been campaigning against what he believes are EPA rules based on “secret science.” He has repeatedly introduced bills in an effort to require the EPA to publicize all the data it uses for the basis of introducing new regulations.
Last March, the House passed Smith’s latest legislative effort — known as the HONEST Act — that would implement the rule at the EPA requiring regulations be based on data that is public and reproducible. The bill has not gone anywhere since, however. Smith has also tried to push the initiative under the 2019 proposed budget.
Experts say there are several risks associated with releasing all raw data used by scientists. For example, a lot of data if released would violate patient privacy or industry confidentiality. And in many instances, it could open up scientists to attacks from individuals or industry looking to unfairly distort the data.
It would also be a monumental task to track down all the data used by scientists in their studies used by the EPA, along with redacting private information. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and a lot of time by administrators, to create such a database.
Betsy Southerland, a former senior EPA official in the Office of Water who spoke with E&E, said this represents an effort to limit the use of peer-reviewed science — science which has gone through a rigorous review process by other experts in the field to check the quality of the research.
“This is just done to paralyze rule-making,” she said. “It’s another obstacle that would make it so hard and so difficult to go forward with rule-making that in the end, the only thing that would happen — in the best case you would greatly delay rule-making; in the worst case you would just prevent it. It would be such an obstacle you couldn’t overcome it.”
Given that Smith’s bills have never successfully made it into law, it appears he may have found a new route through Pruitt directly — a potential final push given Smith will not be seeking reelection this year.
In an editorial published in Science last June, David Michaels, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Milken Institute School of Public Health, and Thomas Burke, Chair in Health, Risk and Society at Johns Hopkins University, wrote that the ideas put forth by Smith in his HONEST Act “imperils public and environmental health.”
“It imposes burdens that will detract from scientists’ ability to do research and to have it influence decision-making,” they write, “all aimed at bringing the process to a standstill, minimizing the role of science, and limiting regulations.”