Time is Not on Our Side for Expert Review of Restricted Science Rule

August 27, 2019 | 10:42 am
Steve Moskowitz/UCS
Genna Reed
Former Director of Policy Analysis

The EPA plans to push out its ill-conceived restricted science rule by the end of this year, and at this rate, it will do so without internal or external input or peer review. Today, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) will meet to discuss a narrow piece of the rule, but so far has not thoroughly examined the full proposal.

Time and time again, the science and public health communities have called upon the EPA to scrap the rule since it was proposed in spring 2018 in a clearly political maneuver by former administrator, Scott Pruitt. But EPA’s political appointees who crafted the rule, many of whom come from industries regulated by the agency, are incredibly invested in a policy that would rule out inconvenient science because its underlying data cannot be made available.

The restricted science rule isn’t the only policy that will likely be rushed without sufficient review. One board member interviewed by E&E news said about the Safe Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule that postponement of the committee’s review “seems to be intended to delay the public posting of information about weaknesses in the [administration’s] analysis and the rule until after the rule is finished.” EPA might think this tactic will save it from having to go back to the drawing board on its shoddy rulemakings, but what it really does is set the agency up for challenges once these rules are finalized. And since these rules are lacking in justification, supporting analyses, and strong peer review, it’s not likely they will prevail in the courts.

Administrator Wheeler claims he wants SAB input and values the expertise and service of its members, but his actions have entirely contradicted his words. The EPA has broken its own advisory committee process by arbitrarily limiting the pool of advisors, failing to listen to its own staff when making appointments resulting in some conflicted members, and moving toward the less thorough consultation review process on proposed rules rather than full consensus-building peer review. It’s clear that this administration and its agency heads are pulling out all the stops to turn expert review into a rubber stamp mechanism for its deregulatory agenda. Ultimately, the abandonment of science-based policies checked by experts betrays the EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment. That is why I’m calling upon the EPA to change course and give its advisors time to review the rule before it’s too late.

Here is what I will be saying at the Science Advisory Board teleconference this afternoon:

Good afternoon and thanks for the opportunity to comment before the SAB today. My name is Genna Reed, and I am the lead science and policy analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Center advocates for improved transparency and integrity in democratic institutions, especially those making science-based public policy decisions.

I urge EPA to give its SAB more time and authority to fully review the broad and sweeping transparency proposed rule. It is too little, too late that the SAB is only now being given the opportunity to review a very narrow part of a rule that would transform how the agency considers science in public health protection decisions. The agency has broken with the spirit of the law and has moved away from established precedent of a functional and constructive relationship with its science advisors.

The EPA failed to make the proposal available to the SAB along with the “relevant scientific and technical information…on which the proposed action is based” upon issuing the rule, as required by law, and still has not answered a series of questions from SAB members about the rule’s implementation. It is fully within the purview of the SAB to review the whole rule and not just the narrow slice proposed by Administrator Wheeler.

Beyond that, the SAB should also be given access to the scientific justification for the proposed rule and ample opportunity to provide comments before the EPA moves forward with the proposal. It appears that the agency is moving away from using the SAB to conduct full peer reviews of proposals, and toward consultations that are inadequate for rules with sweeping scientific implications like this one. At this point, if the EPA still plans to issue its final rule by the end of this year, any contributions the SAB makes to the rule will come too late to meaningfully inform it.

EPA’s reticence to give SAB the answers it needs to evaluate the rule further exemplifies that this rule presents a solution in search of a problem. The rule as drafted would waste enormous resources, make data more vulnerable to misuse and exploitation, and make it nearly impossible for the EPA to use the best available science to inform mission-critical decisions. We ask that the EPA fully utilize the SAB and consider its advice on this rule in its entirety. The EPA should not finalize a rule that has not yet been fully reviewed by its premier science advisors and has received substantial pushback from the broader scientific community.