EPA Proposed Rule Faces Continued Pushback from Scientists

Nov 17, 2019

Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, EPA Science Advisor and Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science, testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Credit Public Domain

A proposed rule change at the EPA is back in the news almost a year and a half after it was first proposed – and met with strong pushback from the science community. It’s called the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Rule,” and members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee heard testimony on the proposal this week.

The EPA declined to make anyone available for interview, but the agency website states that the goal of the rule is to “ensure that the regulatory science underlying its actions is publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

Many researchers say that’s disingenuous – that this is a politically motivated solution in search of a problem, and the actual effect would be to cut important science out of the rule-making process.

“What this would do, really, in practice, is restrict the type of science - mostly public health studies like epidemiological data, for example - from being considered for regulatory actions at the agency,” said Genna Reed, lead science and policy analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists.

By mandating that all raw data be made publicly available, the rule would bar from consideration many long-term observational studies that collect medical information protected by federal privacy laws. These types of studies are also difficult to replicate, another stated goal of the proposed rule.

The rule would also require that EPA review all science to be used in rule-making, a step which Reed argues is unnecessary (as the studies have already gone through peer review) and would be cost- and labor-prohibitive.

“The EPA’s own scientific staff and career staff were not really involved in the formation and the design of this rule,” Reed said. “Not only that, but the it's the agency's advisors were not involved. They weren't were notified about the proposal until it came out.”

Reed says the hearing this week made it clear that this proposal is strongly opposed by scientists.

“The panel was made up of several different scientists from different fields, including people who've worked in the transparency world - how to best to make science more open to the public - and every single witness on that panel agreed that the rule, as written, should not move forward,” Reed said. “There is a lot of concern that as written, this rule would effectively restrict the science the EPA can use, which is not a good way for the agency to function.”

The proposed rule is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget, and Reed says there will be additional opportunities for public comment before the rule could take effect.