Tossing Science Down the Drain
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 15, 2019
Now this is what I’m talking about when I insist that, as citizens, we must pay attention to the Donald Trump White House.
The Trump administration is moving to so water down scientific and medical research used in setting public health regulations that it is creating a shield under which tbe EPA can toss out clean air and water rules.
Rather than say they want to dilute clean air and water regulations, of course, a proposed process change sounds much more palatable. But the results will be the same. I call hypocrisy — again.
Here’s what’s happening, per The New York Times which outlined the change: A new draft proposal changes the way scientific and medical research can be evaluated by requiring publication of all raw data, including confidential medical records, before the EPA could base any new rule or regulation. Obviously medical records cannot be made public, and so, the proposal is a process change that will obviate pollution rules.
For the record, Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator, says this is about transparency. “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.”
In real life, what that means is that it will be 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. In addition, the proposal wants to apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place, meaning it can allow the EPA to toss existing clean air and water rules.
Just for nothing, let’s throw in anything to do with Climate Change. Since the Trump White House will not acknowledge the science behind climate disruption, this same proposal could be used to block responses to policy proposals based on any science for which climate deniers can come up with alternative explanations.
It’s like saying we can no longer ask for a stop sign at a busy intersection where accidents have occurred without a contested study of the medical records of all those who have been hit by cars or who may have been hit or even those who avoided the intersection at all — this latter the if-you-don’t-get-pregnant-you-wouldn’t-need-abortion argument.
In other words, this is nuts. I don’t want a president or a government that does not accept scientific and medical research.
The Times quoted Paul Billings, an officer at the American Lung Association as saying., ”This means the E.P.A. 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 Times offered the case of a Harvard study linking air pollution to premature deaths. As part of collecting data for the so-called Six Cities study, scientists agreed to confidentiality agreements for more than 22,000 patients, using the data to study links with pollution. The oil industry and some Republican lawmakers have long criticized the analysis and a similar study by the American Cancer Society, saying the underlying data sets of both were never made public, preventing independent analysis of the conclusions.
From Day One, the Trump administration has championed reducing regulation of all kind, but particularly in environmental areas. In addition, they have attacked the value of Science in policy-making, particularly when Science runs counter to business interests or economic growth. That has played out in cutting the size national parks in favor of advancing fossil fuel exploration, in undercutting water pollution rules in wetlands, and in expanding ocean areas for drilling.
Scott Pruitt, the first EPA administrator, who was driven to resign amid multiple scandals, started the formal process of diluting the testimony and research of scientists and dropping scientists on advisory boards in favor of industry representatives.
Indeed Wheeler has taken up where Pruitt left off and widened the proposal’s impact even from its earlier versions. An earlier version would have focused on research with levels of toxicity as studied in animals or humans. The new proposal would require access to the raw data for virtually every study that the E.P.A. considers.
So far, the EPA has not been forthcoming about how this proposal might apply retroactively, although the language is clear that it could do so.
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is scheduled to hold a hearing on the EPA’s proposal next week. The original proposal drew nearly 600,000 comments, the vast majority of them in opposition.
To Take Action:
Public comment on “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” or Docket ID.EPA-HQ-OA 2018 can be sent to https://www.regulations.gov
Follow the online instructions for submitting comments