EPA unveils controversial rule that could weaken role of key research


(CNN)Some scientific findings about how pollution impacts human health may take a less prominent role when the Environmental Protection Agency develops pollution limits under a new policy released on Tuesday.

The agency’s hand-picked Scientific Advisory Board also previously described the administration’s proposal as detrimental to scientific integrity.

The rule directs EPA employees to put greater emphasis on “pivotal science for which the underlying dose-response data are available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.” The Trump administration’s argument is that rulemaking with publicly available information that can be independently examined and verified by other scientists will “strengthen the transparency” of EPA decisions.

Critics say that human health studies incorporate strict patient privacy measures that are not compatible with the administration’s demands. They say, for example, that the rule means studies of how pollution impacts health and disease stand to carry lesser weight when the EPA regulates pollution.

    The rule is “detrimental to high-quality impartial decision-making on behalf of the health and safety of the public,” said Chris Zarba of the Environmental Protection Network.

    “If left unchallenged, this rule would essentially bar the agency from using the most relevant medical studies when creating rules about air pollution, toxic chemicals, water contaminants, and more and could force the agency to revoke decades of clean air protections,” Zarba said.

    The rule was signed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on December 30, a source familiar told CNN, but it originated in the days of Wheeler predecessor Scott Pruitt.

    “Part of transparency is making sure the public knows what the agency bases its decisions on,” Wheeler wrote in an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal. “When agencies defer to experts in private without review from citizens, distinctions get flattened and the testing and deliberation of science is precluded.”

      The rule is one of several the Trump administration is finalizing in the weeks before it leaves office. The rule takes effect immediately, complicating any potential Biden administration move to reverse course.

      When Wheeler took office, he said he wanted to review the Pruitt proposal and look at how the Food and Drug Administration and other health agencies balance transparency with privacy. The final rule language says it “has a much narrower scope” than the original Pruitt proposal.