Against the advice of many scientists, policymakers and public health experts, the Trump administration is poised to pass new rules that will severely limit the scientific data that can be used to make public health regulations. It could also, opponents argue, expose more Americans to dangerous toxins and life-threatening pollution.
The New York Times obtained a draft of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules, “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” The document states that the agency will only consider the conclusions of academic studies if scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records.
The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.
Examples of studies that could be rejected—although they have been used in the past to write national policy initiatives—include ones that show how mercury from power plants impairs brain development and how lead in paint dust causes childhood behavioral disorders.
Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, said in an interview with The Times: “This means the EPA can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths.”
The fossil fuel industry, as well as some Republican lawmakers and the American Chemistry Council, have publicly disagreed with the use of studies that cannot be independently verified via raw data, reports The Times. A 2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that it would cost the EPA hundreds of millions of dollars to redact private information if academics made their raw data available to the public. But in September, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, told a congressional committee, “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”
On Wednesday (November 13), the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing on the proposal. Key opponents from the medical and science fields are expected to testify.