EPA left key official out of 'secret science' rule

EPA left key official out of 'secret science' rule
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet MORE excluded one of its top scientists while devising its new “secret science” rule, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Union of Concerned Scientists show that the EPA’s director of the Office of the Science Advisor (OSA),Tom Sinks, was self-admittedly completely out of the loop as the EPA worked to devise the new rule that aimed to limit the types of science that could be used by the agency in devising new regulations.

In an April 24 email, Sinks wrote, “Even though OSA [the Office of Science Advisor] and I have not participated in the development of this document and I just this moment obtained it (have yet to read it), I am listed as the point of contact.”

Sinks added that he was also concerned about his lack of involvement because the rule clearly would affect the roles of his office,  saying “the proposal likely touches upon three aspects of OSA work — public access to EPA funded research, human subjects research protection, and scientific integrity.”

An EPA spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that the agency “received input from a number of stakeholders and utilized the intra and interagency process to ensure a robust proposal was put forward.”

The rule is formally known as the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” and was introduced in April. It aims to expose the methodology behind scientific findings and cut back on what Pruitt had deemed “secret science.”

It is one of many decisions made by Pruitt under the auspices of increasing transparency and getting rid of conflicts of interest. Last year he announced a new agency-wide policy that would bar scientists receiving money through an EPA grant from sitting on any science advisory board.

The rule met almost immediate resistance from the science community, which argued that it would exclude a number of peer reviewed scientific studies related to public health because many would not be able to share the details of the patients studied.

Instead, critics feared, the rule would place more reliance on industry produced studies that might reaffirm arguments that certain chemicals or emissions had little harmful side effects on human health or the environment.

In June, a group of 103 lawmakers signed a letter sent to Pruitt calling on him to reverse course on the rule-making.

“Contrary to its name, the proposed rule would implement an opaque process allowing EPA to selectively suppress scientific evidence without accountability and in the process undermine bedrock environmental laws,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday held a hearing to discuss the merits and disadvantages posed by the new rule.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerIn politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads MORE (D-NJ.) likened the rule to the tobacco industry’s old playbook, where companies paid for and pushed studies that appeared to find no heath risks associated with smoking.

“This rule is far more likely to hinder science-based regulation than help it,” he said, adding that this was “deja vu all over again.”

EPA confirmed to the Hill last week that it is reorganizing a number of offices within ORD including merging the Office of the Science Advisor with the Office of Science Policy, a move that critics fear would diminish the role of the scientists there and push it further down the totem pole.