Energy & Environment

EPA ‘secret science’ proposal garners 76,000 comments, many critical

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Critics have blasted a proposed rule that they believe would limit the use of science in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulemaking as the proposal inches closer to finalization. 

The comment period for the latest version of the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, sometimes referred to as the “secret science” rule, closed on Monday.

The rule garnered more than 76,000 comments during the public comment period. The latest version of the rule would restrict use of studies that don’t make their underlying data public.

The agency has argued that the measure will increase transparency, but critics have said it will prevent certain research from being considered, especially where revealing data would cause privacy violations. 

The newest version of the rule, which was proposed earlier this year, wouldn’t prohibit such studies entirely, but would give preference to studies with public data. 

A number of voices in the broad scientific community expressed opposition to the proposal. 

Union of Concerned Scientists leaders wrote to the agency saying that it would “force researchers to choose between protecting privacy and security and allowing their work to be used in EPA decisionmaking.”

They also argued that it “invites scientific integrity abuses at EPA because it would give the administrator unprecedented power to choose what science gets used or sidelined.”

Bruce Stein, the chief scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, characterized the proposal as being part of an administration “assault on science.” 

“Access to raw data at the stage described in the supplemental notice is typically not a requirement even for peer-review, as scientists can evaluate the robustness and accuracy of findings based on the presentation of processed data and description of the methods and analysis used,” he wrote to the agency. 

In defense of the rule, an agency spokesperson told The Hill in an email that “science transparency does not weaken science, and does not endanger health.”

“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,” the spokesperson said. 

The proposal also faced criticism from a group of attorneys general representing 17 states and several cities. 

They said the new proposal “compounds” problems in the original rule “by broadening the scope of the proposed rule so that it would now apply to all data and models and would be used in the development of ‘influential scientific information’ as well as regulatory decision-making.”

“This harmful and deeply flawed proposed rule will not improve the science relied upon by EPA but will instead unlawfully and arbitrarily exclude or give less weight to much of the science underpinning EPA action to protect human health and the environment,” they added. “The supplemental proposal fails to identify objective standards to govern the vast discretion EPA proposes to give itself to ignore or demote relevant, peer-reviewed science.”

A group of 100 law professors called the proposal unlawful. 

“This unlawful, unauthorized, ill-conceived, and overwhelmingly vague rule would make sweeping changes to the way EPA makes those choices with barely any thought to the incredibly complex regulatory, scientific, and privacy issues implicated,” they wrote to the agency. 

Following the public comment period, the agency reviews the comments and decides whether to move ahead or issue an altered version of the proposal. 

The March version of the proposal followed a prior 2018 proposal that garnered more than 600,000 comments. 

Tags Regulatory science Rulemaking United States Environmental Protection Agency

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