November 06, 2019
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Pruitt Reportedly Moving to Restrict Use of Research in EPA Policy

"This is insane. If EPA rules are not based on science, what are they based on?"

by Jake Johnson

A deeply unpopular plan by one of the Republican Party's most fervent climate deniersto restrict the use of scientific research in government rule-making isn't even advancing in the GOP-controlled Congress, but EPA chief Scott Pruitt appears to be moving to adopt it as official agency policy.

As E&E News reported on Friday, Pruitt announced a push for "additional science reform" at the EPA during a closed-door meeting at the right-wing Heritage Foundation this week.

According to attendees and others who spoke to E&E News, this "reform" effort is expected to resemble Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) legislative attempt to prohibit the EPA from using scientific data that isn't fully available to the public and "reproducible" in developing policy.

"The proposal may sound reasonable enough at first," explained The Intercept's Sharon Lerner in a summary of Smith's bill. "But because health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share, the bill would prevent the EPA from using many of the best scientific studies. It would also prohibit using studies of one-time events, such as the Gulf oil spill or the effect of a partial ban of chlorpyrifos on children...because these events—and thus the studies of them—can't be repeated."

And while Smith's bill would restrict the EPA's ability to use certain kinds of crucial scientific research, it would "allow industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome."

Pruitt's reported plan to enshrine Smith's proposals in official EPA policy was met with alarm by scientists, former government officials, and environmentalists, who argued that it is yet another "dangerous" attempt to curtail the agency's ability to combat environmental degradation.

Betsy Southerland, a former senior EPA official who resigned last year in protest against Pruitt's fervent deregulatory agenda, characterized Smith's bill and Pruitt's apparent support for it as part of a deceptive effort to "paralyze rulemaking."

"It's another obstacle that would make it so hard and so difficult to go forward with rulemaking that in the end, the only thing that would happen—in the best case you would greatly delay rulemaking; in the worst case you would just prevent it. It would be such an obstacle you couldn't overcome it."

Reacting to reports of Pruitt's plan on Friday, Yogin Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists called the expected move "alarming" and concluded: "It's just another excuse for Pruitt's EPA to really abrogate EPA's responsibility to protect human health and the environment."

Originally appeared on | Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc