Now Is the Time To Halt the EPA’s Restrictions on Science

, director, Center for Science & Democracy | May 21, 2018, 9:07 am EDT
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If you have been following the news, I am sure you know by now that the EPA is proposing to restrict the science it will consider when developing new or revised health and safety protections. It may seem like a Washington game, but this proposed rule has huge implications for all of us.

For scientists, it means that much of your work may be dismissed from impacting policy out of hand because you must adhere to research ethics policies that restrict the release of private data. Or because you can’t and shouldn’t sacrifice intellectual property rights at the whim of the EPA. For industry, it creates greater uncertainty around the always thorny issues concerning confidential business information. And, most importantly,  for all of us, the proposal means that policies that protect our health and safety will not be based on the best available science because of inappropriate political interference.

So what can YOU do to fight back? Well, for all the political manipulation that we have been documenting at the EPA, the agency must still adhere to the law when making or changing regulations.  That means the EPA must make a proposal public, accept public comments from all who wish to submit them, evaluate and respond to those comments, and then decide on the final version of the rule. And they are subject to challenge in federal court on all actions.

That means YOU can submit a comment into the public record that the EPA is obligated to consider. And now is the time! For this proposal, the comment period is only 30 days—and it’s already more than half over. It closes at the end of May (though requests have been made to extend it, so far with no response from the EPA).

How do I make a comment?

The proposed rule is complicated and somewhat confusing. It is misnamed as an action to “strengthen transparency” in the rulemaking process, but it does no such thing. To have an impact, however, your comment needs to be specific and detailed, not just broad comments on the rule.

To help you better understand the proposed rule, we have produced a guide for commenters. The guide highlights topics for which the EPA is specifically requesting input and some of the issues you may want to consider in making your comment. It also gives you the links for submitting a comment and some suggestions for how to have the most impact.

I want to encourage scientists to submit as part of their comments examples of specific important scientific studies and evidence that are likely to be excluded if this rule is implemented. For example, the rule proposal says that studies will only be considered if all raw data, computer code, models, and other material in the study is fully publicly available.

On its face, that precludes using studies where personal confidential information is part of the “raw” data. Most Institutional Review Boards require researchers maintain confidentiality for human subjects data. Are their studies you have been involved in or rely on in your research that would be excluded a priori because of this restriction?

One of the reasons it is important to cite specific studies in the record is because that public record will be important in any future legal action. Also, our political leaders are usually not fully familiar with the scientific process. They need specific examples to inform their own views. How will your work be impacted scientists? How will community members be affected if certain public health and safety protections are not enacted based on good science?

A week of collective action

A coalition of groups including 500 Women Scientists, EarthJustice, and the Public Comment Project are joining forces to mobilize as many public comments as possible during the week of May 20-26.  This coordinated action—the National Week of Public Comments on EPA’s “Restricting Science” Policy—is part of the overall effort of Science Rising, which is working to defend science and its crucial role in public policy and our democracy more broadly. You can participate by sending in your comment and letting us know that you did.

This is still our government, our democracy, and our voices need to be heard.

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