WASHINGTON (April 23, 2018)—Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is set to introduce a new policy that would severely hamstring the agency when it comes to developing and enforcing public health rules by limiting the kinds of research the EPA can use in crafting rules.
In a letter, led by former EPA scientists, nearly 1,000 scientists asked Pruitt to abandon any such proposal, which they said “would greatly weaken EPA's ability to comprehensively consider the scientific evidence,” undermining the EPA’s capacity to protect Americans from serious health threats.
While the details are not yet public, reports suggest that Pruitt’s proposal would bar the EPA from considering any study if the raw data on which the study was based is not available to the public. The proposal applies to studies that use people’s private health data to evaluate pollutants and chemicals. In most cases, releasing the data would be a violation of health privacy laws. In other cases, it simply may not be feasible. Discarding studies that used individual health information would amount to excluding the best available science, and make it extremely difficult to administer public health protections, such as the Clean Air Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“This proposal would mean throwing out the studies we rely on to protect the public, for no good reason,” said Betsy Southerland, a longtime EPA scientist who served a director in the EPA’s Office of Water. “This would have an enormous and negative impact on the EPA’s ability to enforce the law and protect people’s health. Administrator Pruitt can’t carry out the basic responsibilities of his job if he insists that his agency ignore the evidence.”
The administrator’s proposal is expected to be similar to bills introduced by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith that Congress never passed. Internal emails, which UCS obtained through a Freedom of information Act request, show that EPA political appointees consulted with Smith’s staff in creating the new policy.
“It’s obvious that this proposal isn’t going to advance science or the public interest,” said Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This was not a decision made in consultation with scientists or public health experts—it’s purely a political choice, and one that will make it harder to hold polluters accountable. It’s encouraging to see the scientific community coming together to oppose it.”