Lineups set for EPA’s marathon ‘secret science’ hearing

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2018

After months of taking potshots at an EPA proposal to limit the use of scientific research in crafting new regulations, critics are primed for a sustained assault at a public hearing today that could last into the early evening.

More than 100 people have signed up in advance to speak at the hearing, set to begin at 8 a.m. at EPA headquarters and run as late as 8 p.m. For opponents, a principal goal “is to make the case in a public forum as to why this would undermine the EPA’s ability to protect public health,” Yogin Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists said in an interview.

While the speakers lineupreleased this afternoon includes representatives of business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute, a large majority are from advocacy organizations vehemently opposed to the EPA plan. Also scheduled to speak are three House Democrats — Reps. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Paul Tonko of New York — who signed on to a letter last month pressing then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to scrap the proposal (Greenwire, June 7).

The proposed rule, titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would effectively bar the use of specific studies to draft new rules unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation,” according to the text.

The idea sprang from legislation sponsored by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). In unveiling EPA’s version in April, Pruitt framed it as a move intended to bolster public confidence in the agency’s decisionmaking. In a Friday interview with E&E News, acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, who took over last week following Pruitt’s forced resignation, signaled a desire to move ahead.

While stressing he doesn’t want to “pre-judge” the outcome, Wheeler said that “fundamentally, I do believe that the more information you put out to the public, the better the regulatory decisions will be and the better understood the regulatory decisions will be by the public” (E&E News PM, July 13).

To foes, the real purpose of what they often label the “censoring science” proposal is to stymie the use of research that would justify the need for stricter public health and environmental protections.

“In plain English, what they’re trying to do is set up a structured method to cherry-pick the studies they use,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said during a conference call with reporters today.

A main target, critics say, is the “Six Cities” paper published by Harvard University researchers in 1993. Together with an American Cancer Society study released two years later, the paper established a connection between fine particulate air pollution and premature death, leading to new EPA regulations in 1997.

While research relies on many data sources, a powerful fount of information is confidential data from individual patients, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust wrote in comments filed last month in urging EPA to drop the planned rule.

With its prohibition “against EPA reliance on any study where personally identifiable data cannot be made public,” Faust wrote, the proposal “effectively disqualifies the best available science from use in the regulatory process.”

On the other side is the Heartland Institute, the conservative think tank with ties to the Trump administration. “The availability of scientific study methods and data will be crucial to assuring the integrity of the science used to justify policy and regulations,” senior fellow Peter Ferrara and policy adviser John Dale Dunn said in comments also submitted last month. They also urged EPA to apply the proposed policy to the computer models used in EPA-funded climate science.

The Illinois-based institute is a vocal critic of mainstream research, which shows that human activities are primarily responsible for rising temperatures.

“The continued use of default models, without consideration of alternatives or model uncertainty, creates a false scientific justification for EPA actions, policies and regulatory burdens,” Dunn and Ferrara wrote.

The comments are among more than 200,000 so far received by EPA, according to the regulations.govwebsite, although most appear to result from campaigns organized by advocacy groups.

In what could be read as an acknowledgment of the high level of public interest, EPA will livestream the audio from tomorrow’s hearing. An agency spokeswoman did not respond to emailed questions today asking whether the agency has livestreamed previous public hearings.

The deadline for written comments, extended in response to requests from numerous groups, is Aug. 16.