EPA opens comment period on ‘secret science’ draft

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2018

EPA continued racing ahead today with plans to revamp its handling of scientific research, publishing a proposed rule in the Federal Register and opening a 30-day public comment period.

The proposal would effectively bar EPA from using scientific studies in crafting significant new regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation,” according to the text.

While EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said the proposal is geared to boost public confidence in agency decisions, critics view it as a vehicle for shutting out key research that might justify the need for stronger safeguards to protect public health.

Had such “transparency” requirements been in place in the past, they could have stymied development of regulations to reduce particulate matter pollution, protect children from lead exposure, and control toxic pollutants in the air, drinking water and solid waste, according to an analysis by the Environmental Protection Network, which describes itself as a volunteer group made up of former government employees and other professionals.

In a letter today, the Union of Concerned Scientists asked Pruitt to lengthen the public comment period to at least 90 days, given the proposal’s “complexity” and its potential consequences for EPA’s ability to protect the public and the environment.

To date, the administration has shown no interest is slowing down. Earlier this month, the proposal was whisked through a required Office of Management and Budget review in a matter of days. Exactly how many days is open to question.

After the completion date originally posted on the Reginfo.gov website indicated that the budget office’s review ended a day after Pruitt signed the proposal last Tuesday, OMB altered the site to show that it ended one day before (Greenwire, April 27).

An OMB spokesman last week declined to provide an on-the-record explanation for the change.

In a sign of the draft rule’s possible far-reaching impact, EPA is now looking for public feedback on numerous issues.

Among the issues mentioned in the draft: how to incorporate the proposed requirements into grant agreements; whether the EPA administrator should be allowed to grant exceptions to those requirements in cases where they are “impracticable”; and whether there “are other compelling interests besides privacy, confidentiality, national and homeland security that may require special consideration when data is being released.”