OMAHA (DTN) — Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took heat for a rule proposed in April to improve transparency in the science used by the agency to draft regulations.
Now, as the EPA continues to review public comments on the rule, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight, heard from witnesses on Wednesday for and against the action taken by EPA as the Senate also considers legislation on the issue.
Critics of the rule have said it would exclude valid scientific studies the agency currently uses.
In short, both the rule and the legislation would require EPA to make publicly available underlying science used to develop rules, so as to make that science adequate for independent validation. The legislation specifically would prohibit EPA from proposing, finalizing or taking an action unless the underlying science is the best available science and is publicly available.
Dr. Rush D. Holt, with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told the subcommittee on Wednesday the efforts by EPA and Congress may hurt the public welfare.
“The rule would result in the exclusion of valid and important scientific findings from the regulatory process,” he said.
“There is no good evidence provided by those who want to overturn the successful procedures of EPA that there is any deficiency in the scientific research that has been used until now. It is about reducing regulations. We know this, because the architects and proponents present these proposals as part of a deregulatory agenda. This change would likely result in harm to people and their environment.”
Agriculture groups largely have supported efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to cut and/or reform regulations. That includes an ongoing effort by EPA to rewrite the waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act in March 2017, and the Senate is considering the same legislation.
The new bill amends the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978.
The EPA’s own science advisory board has expressed doubts about whether the agency rule could be implemented as proposed. In particular, the agency’s chemicals office has expressed concern because chemical risk evaluations, for example, rely on proprietary information that would not be made public.
Robert Hahn, professor at Oxford University Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, told the committee he believes the rule and the legislation are a good first step in improving the use of science in rulemaking.
“The use of sound science in a transparent manner in regulatory decision-making is critical for improving the welfare of Americans and consumers more generally,” he said.
In addition, Hahn told the committee such an approach would be beneficial to other government agencies that create regulations.
Hahn has conducted research on EPA regulations and the underlying science.
In particular, Hahn said he examined the regulation of mercury emissions from power plants. As part of the research he said he reviewed EPA documents.
“It was challenging to replicate the findings of that analysis,” Hahn said, “and even though there was supposed to be a clear benefit-cost analysis, it was difficult to connect the dots. Once we connected the dots, we found that the regulation would not likely pass a benefit-cost test based on the government’s data. It would have been very helpful in undertaking this research if we had easier access to the scientific models and data underlying that analysis.”
In addition, Hahn said the agency has often struggled to consider regulatory alternatives adequately or consider a range of benefits and costs.
“In fairness, my understanding is that EPA has done much to improve the quality of their analysis since that study, but my understanding is that there are still significant issues with modeling and transparency,” he said.
Hahn said the proposed EPA rule wouldn’t nullify existing environmental regulations, disregard existing research, violate confidentiality protections, jeopardize privacy or undermine the peer-review process.
Dr. Edward J. Calabrese, professor of toxicology at the University of Massachusetts, told the committee the agency also should commit to making public data that it elected not to use in rulemaking.
“In addition, most EPA scientific decisions are based on multiple assumptions, some of which are frequently hidden, obscured and often silent drivers of regulatory action,” he said, pointing to the use of animal models.
In the 1980s, Calbrese developed and shared with EPA a database that included information on whether carcinogens could cause cancer. In addition, he said he and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts provided data to EPA on the effects of soil ingestion in humans. That data was used by the agency to develop soil cleanup standards.
“These are examples to enhance improved science and transparency in regulatory activities,” he said. “The EPA transparency proposal is crucial to enhance public health and should have been adopted 20 or more years ago.”
The public comment on the EPA rule closed in August.
Read the proposed EPA rule here: https://www.epa.gov/…
Read the legislation here: