NYT: EPA plans to limit research used in public health regulations

NYT: EPA plans to limit research used in public health regulations
Copyright 2019 CNN

The Environment Protection Agency plans to limit the scientific research that the government can use to form public health regulations, The New York Times reported.

A draft of the EPA’s proposal obtained by the Times would require scientists to disclose their raw data, including confidential medical records, in order for the agency to consider a study’s conclusions. The move would complicate the enactment of new clean air and water regulations, which are largely rooted in academic studies that rely on confidentiality agreements because of personal health disclosures.

The draft proposal obtained by the Times expands on a previous version championed by then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, who lost his job last year amid a lengthy list of ethics controversies. But unlike the earlier draft, the new plan would apply retroactively, halting the further use of studies already cited by the EPA that don’t comply with the new proposal, according to a separate EPA memo viewed by the Times.

While publishing data is common in many branches of science, health-related scientists are subject to patient privacy restrictions and may not publish the raw data.

The EPA said in a statement to CNN on Monday that the agency “is committed to science transparency and is working to finalize the supplemental in 2020.”

“Under The Trump Administration, EPA is focused on providing certainty to the American public on the science being used in developing rules and regulations,” the agency said.

In another statement late Monday, the EPA told CNN that The New York Times’ reporting “has numerous errors” but did not specify what is inaccurate.

The Times story, the agency said, “is based on a leaked preliminary draft version of the Supplemental, not the actual text submitted to the [Office of Management and Budget].”

The statement said the EPA would issue a final rule in 2020 that would “take into account the comments received in response to both the 2018 proposed rule and this supplemental [federal register notice] as well as those submitted by the Science Advisory Board.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists said last year that the original draft of the proposal would require agency employees “to put on blinders and only see the science that they want them to see.”

An internal watchdog report released in September found that the EPA had “exceeded” its goals in cutting back environmental regulations during the first two years of the Trump administration.

In the past two years, the watchdog report said, the EPA has changed which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, rolled back an Obama-era plan that would have reduced carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and proposed a rule that would allow fewer restrictions on hazardous air pollutants, among other changes.

The EPA cut 26 regulations, saving the agency more than $96 million, and created four new regulations — far more than the 2-to-1 ratio the White House had requested, according to the report.

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Rene Marsh and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.