Energy & Environment

EPA gives public more time to comment on ‘secret science’ rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced that it will extend the amount of time in which the public can comment on its latest changes to a proposal that would limit the agency’s use of studies that don’t make their underlying data public. 

The announcement comes as the coronavirus has prompted state lockdowns, limited travel and restricted gatherings to stem the spread of the disease.

Critics argued that more time was needed to weigh in, as many public health officials who have serious concerns over the EPA’s Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science proposal are busy in efforts to fight COVID-19.

The public will now have about a month more to comment on the proposal, sometimes referred to as the secret science rule. Its comment period was previously slated to close on April 17 but will go until May 18. 

“EPA is committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement obtained by The Hill. 

“By extending the comment period, we are listening to stakeholders and giving them more time to provide valuable input on how EPA can improve the science underlying its rules,” he added. 

The agency has argued that the rule is necessary for transparency, but opponents have said it could restrict the EPA’s use of science when making rules. 

Many studies do not make their underlying data public, particularly when personal information and medical data of confidential business information is involved. 

Critics worry the rule could prevent consideration of some landmark public health research, tipping EPA policy in favor of industry-funded studies.

“Is there some clamoring from the public, anyone other than by industry for this? The answer is almost certainly not,” Andrew Rosenberg with the Union of Concerned Scientists previously told The Hill.

Rosenberg said that even if the public wanted to review the scientific studies the department relies on, they wouldn’t need the underlying raw data.

“Over my career, I’ve reviewed hundreds of studies and papers. You don’t review the raw data, you review the basic methods and statistics and results and see if the results support any conclusions that were drawn,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement marks a reversal for the agency, which previously told The Hill it would continue with “business as usual” in regards to its regulatory process. 

Last month, a coalition of attorneys general from 13 states and several cities wrote to the EPA asking it to extend the comment period to 120 days, as opposed to the previous 30. 

“States, healthcare professionals, and scientists who should weigh in on the supplemental proposal will not be able to devote the time necessary to fully evaluate the supplemental proposal and its implications during this evolving crisis,” they wrote at the time. 

The announcement also comes amid a broader push to extend comment periods for proposed rules across the Trump administration due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Updated at 5:11 p.m.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed.

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