Energy & Environment

EPA rule proposes to expand limitations on scientific studies

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The latest iteration of a controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal mandates that scientists provide broadened raw data related to their studies, a move some fear could further limit the use of science in agency rulemaking.

According to a new draft of the EPA’s anticipated science transparency rule, reported by The New York Times Monday, public health studies must first release their raw scientific data in order to be considered in all EPA rulemakings.

{mosads}The move is a change from previous drafts of the formally titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, also dubbed the “secret science” rule, which was first pitched in 2017 by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a congressional committee in September that the agency was moving forward with the rule to “ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”


A previous version of the rule would have only applied to a small section of public health research known as “dose-response” studies where toxicity is studied in animals or humans. The new rule, however, would request raw data for nearly every study the EPA considers in rulemakings, according to the draft. Under the rule, scientists would have to disclose all raw data including confidential medical records in order for the EPA to consider the study.

The draft says the changes to the rulemaking are part of EPA’s proposal for “a broader applicability.”

According to another internal email obtained by the Times Monday, the rule would also be applied retroactively, a striking change from previous drafts and one that could have reverberating effects on hundreds of studies.

The EPA denied that the supplemental draft obtained by the Times would be implemented retroactively, calling it “false.” The agency said the draft was not the latest version of the secret science rule. The agency intends to issue the final rule in 2020.

Agency officials say the proposed rule will ultimately make the data within scientific studies more publicly transparent at a time when some scientists have been criticized as being politically motivated.

“By requiring transparency, scientists will be required to publish hypothesis and experimental data for other scientists to review and discuss, requiring the science to withstand skepticism and peer review,” EPA said in a statement Tuesday rebutting the Times’ reporting.

But scientists and others say the new rule is instead likely to muzzle important public health studies that are limited from sharing certain data due to privacy concerns. Critics say that if implemented, the changes could be devastating to public heath.

“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,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It doesn’t just restrict the science that EPA can use to institute new rules — it works retroactively, allowing political appointees at the agency to topple standards that have worked for decades to deliver clean air and clean water.”

Scientists on EPA’s Science Advisory Board in August pushed back against the proposal, saying it risked eliminating major studies from consideration as the EPA considers new policies.

A group of more than 100 bipartisan lawmakers in 2018 asked the EPA to scrap the proposed rule.

“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.

An EPA spokesperson said the New York Times report “has numerous errors and is based on a leaked preliminary, draft version of the Supplemental, not the actual text submitted to OMB.”

This story was updated

Tags Andrew Wheeler Andrew Wheeler EPA Scott Pruitt Scott Pruitt secret science Transparency
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