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Internal emails show EPA working to limit agency’s use of science

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) political staffers have been working to internally replicate through agency action a bill that would restrict the kind of science that the EPA can use when writing regulations, internal emails show.

EPA head Scott Pruitt met with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, on Jan. 9, according to a copy of Pruitt’s public schedule.

Smith, for years, has been pushing to restrict the type of scientific findings accepted by the EPA. His repeatedly sponsored bill, now called the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) ACT, would mandate all scientific data and findings be made publicly available before they are used to justify agency regulations. Opponents of the idea say that it would exclude a number of public health studies.{mosads}

Newly released emails show that Pruitt and his staff are working to essentially replicate Smith’s proposal, and spent a majority of February working to finalize the policy. 

Versions of Smith’s bill passed the GOP-controlled House three times, but the full Senate hasn’t taken it up.

The week after Smith’s meeting with Pruitt, Joseph Brazauskas, the staff director for the Science Committee’s environment panel, emailed to set up a meeting with Aaron Ringel, deputy associate administrator for congressional affairs at the EPA, to “discuss further transparent science-based regulations at EPA,” according to an email dated Jan. 16. 

The communication with Smith was forwarded to other EPA staffers by Ringel, with a note telling his colleagues that it was part of a “pitch that EPA internally implement the HONEST Act,” explaining that the bill would require that “no regulation can go into effect unless the scientific data is publicly available for review.”

Pruitt told the Daily Caller News Foundation last month that he would implement a new policy to ensure that the data the EPA uses is “transparent.” But the agency has refused to provide more details.

The emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), confirm that EPA staffers have been having detailed talks to bring Smith’s goals to the agency. UCS opposes the policy.

The emails show that in mid-February, after EPA officials had been working on drafts of the directive for weeks, Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator in the EPA’s chemicals office, asked her colleagues for a recent version of Smith’s bill.

Richard Yamada, an official in the EPA’s research office and former aide to Smith, sent her the version that the House passed last year. 

The records also show some internal wrangling over the bill and realizations among staff that it might not be as simple as requiring all regulatory data to be public or published in journals.

Beck said that when pesticide companies want their products approved, they send in massive volumes of data that don’t get published in journals and are often confidential business information that companies don’t want to be made public. 

Chemicals approved for sale under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have similar restrictions, she told a small group of senior aides working on the policy.

“The directive needs to be revised. Without changes it will jeopardize our entire pesticide registration/re-registration review process and like all TSCA risk evaluations,” Beck wrote.

The EPA withheld the drafts of the directive, but it appears that staffers were receptive to Beck’s objections.

The records additionally show that the EPA officials working on the project were under deadline pressure.

By mid-February, Pruitt was getting antsy to see a final version of the draft. In a Feb. 12 email, Deputy Associate Administrator Brittany Bolen emailed the staffers working on the policy that Pruitt’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson “asked to have this rolled out by the end of the month.” 

The policy change, called the “data access memo” internally, has yet to be announced, beyond Pruitt’s interview with The Daily Caller.

“These discussions are part of the deliberative process; the policy is still being developed. It’s important to understand; however, that any standards for protecting [confidential business information] would be the same for all stakeholders,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.

A representative for UCS said the emails confirm the EPA’s push to restrict science.

“The biggest takeaway was the policy to restrict the use of science that has been floated around, but not officially confirmed — hatched by political appointees doing their best to make sure independent scientific analysis does not get in their way,” said Yogin Kothari, senior Washington representative at UCS. 

This is not the first time the EPA has floated policy changes that would shift the way the agency uses scientific findings.

Over the course of Pruitt’s first year as administrator, he pushed a “Red team, Blue team” initiative that aimed to get more industry voices into the EPA’s science panels, but that effort was ultimately abandoned. He also lead an organizational overhaul of science advisory boards, pushing a new policy that limited scientists receiving federal EPA grants from serving on the boards. 

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Lamar Smith Science Scott Pruitt

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