The EPA Should Not Restrict The Science They Use To Protect Us

July 16, 2018 | 10:09 am
EPA office building with agency flagEPA
Andrew Rosenberg
Former Contributor

On Tuesday morning, the Environmental Protection Agency is holding their only hearing on their proposed rule that would restrict the science that the agency is allowed to consider in developing health and safety protections. My colleagues and I have written extensively about this proposal. On Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to speak directly to the agency about this proposal. I will have five minutes. Here is what I intend to say:

“Good morning. I am Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. We advocate for the role of science in public policy. I am here today to ask that you rescind this proposed rule because it would only restrict EPA’s ability to use the best available science to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and the environment, while doing nothing to improve transparency in decision-making.

First and foremost, this proposal is fatally flawed because it provides almost no justification or analysis of the impacts of the proposed change in policy. There is no cost benefit analysis of the rule with respect to the agency and external researchers, nor how it would affect EPA’s mission-critical work. Additionally, the proposal would effectively prevent the EPA from using many kinds of scientific studies vital to its decision-making. This includes, but is not limited to, studies that rely on personal health data, confidential business information, intellectual property, or older studies where the authors or data sources may not be accessible. Without the ability to use this scientific information, EPA would be unable to meet its mission and statutory obligations. This proposal would make it significantly harder for EPA to use the best available science to protect the public, including from:

  • Harmful emissions of hazardous air pollutants, particulate matter and ozone
  • Exposure to dangerous chemicals in commerce
  • Drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals such as PFAS or lead

Further, CBO has calculated that such restrictions would substantially increase costs and burdens to an agency that is already experiencing budget cuts, reorganizations, and understaffing, thus undermining the ability of EPA to make decisions based on science.

The proposed rule could also prevent the agency from addressing the impacts of dangerous chemicals at low concentrations where direct measurements are very difficult. This would have the effect of leaving Americans unprotected even when there was clear indication of harms to human health.

I have over 30 years of experience in government service, academia, and non-profit leadership. I have authored or reviewed 100s of peer reviewed scientific papers. As part of my government service, I worked as a scientist and in a policy position at a regulatory agency. In universities as a faculty member and dean. I understand how agencies use science in policymaking, how research at universities is conducted, and how these entities incorporate best practices of transparency into their scientific work. As a frequent peer reviewer I do not review the raw data for studies, since that would tell me little. I review the research questions, the methods, the summarized data, the results and conclusions in order to assess the quality of the work. EPA’s proposed rule would do nothing to improve transparency for scientists, policy-makers or the public. Crafting the rule without consulting with the scientific community is a fatal error for this proposal. Even the agency’s own Science Advisory Board has noted the need to consult with scientists in any further development of this proposal.

A further fatal flaw is that the proposed rule would replace scientific evidence with political judgement. The rule would grant the EPA administrator broad authority to exclude individual studies or entire decisions from being subject to its provisions. Decisions on what science to rely on should be made by the agency’s scientific experts based on established criteria for best available science.

Five minutes is not enough time to cover all of the problems with this proposal. At best, this proposed rule is a misguided attempt at transparency. At worst, it is a backdoor attempt to prevent EPA from protecting public health.

UCS supports real transparency reforms. We support scientific integrity policies that prevent political interference in scientific analyses and reporting. We do not believe researchers should be put in the absurd position of choosing between protecting study participant privacy or informing the EPA ‘s efforts to protect public health and safety.

On behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists and our 500,000 supporters I urge the EPA not to move forward with this rulemaking and to continue to allow the agency’s scientists and policy analysts to use the best science available to inform their work.”