The Environmental Protection Agency has completed one of its last major setbacks under the Trump administration, changing the way it views evidence of damage from pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public health regulation.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler formally announced the completion of what he calls the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule in a Zoom appearance before the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank on Tuesday. EPA completed the final rule last week.
The new rule would require the release of raw data from public health studies whose findings are used by EPA to determine the hazard from an air pollutant, toxic chemical, or other threat. Large public health studies studying the anonymized results of countless people have been instrumental in setting limits on toxic substances, including some of the nation’s most important clean air protections.
Conservative and industry groups have long pushed for what they called the transparency rule. Opponents say the goal was to hamper future regulation and public health interventions. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Monday night, Wheeler said the change was for the sake of transparency.
“If the American people are to be regulated by the interpretation of these scientific studies, they deserve to examine the data as part of the scientific process and American self-government,” Wheeler wrote.
But critics say the new rule could force the disclosure of people’s identities and details in public health studies, jeopardizing medical confidentiality and future studies. Academics, scientists, universities, medical and public health officials, environmental groups, and others have spoken at public hearings and written to oppose change.
“This really appears to be an attempt by Wheeler to permanently allow major polluters to trample public health,” said Benjamin Levitan, senior counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group. “Ties the hands of future administrations on how they can protect public health.”
The change could limit not only future public health protections, but “force the agency to revoke decades of clean air protections,” Chris Zara, former chair of the EPA’s scientific advisory board, said in a statement.
Wheeler, in his Wall Street Journal article, said the new limits would not force the disclosure of any personal data or “categorically” exclude any scientific work.
The EPA has been one of the most active agencies in executing Donald Trump’s mandate to reverse regulations that conservative groups have identified as unnecessary and burdensome for the industry.
Many of the changes face legal challenges and can be reversed through executive action or a longer bureaucratic process. But undoing them would take time and effort on the part of the incoming Biden administration, which also has ambitious goals to combat climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions and lessen the impact of pollutants on minority and low-income communities.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism