EPA sends ‘secret science’ plan to White House

By Sean Reilly | 04/20/2018 01:13 PM EDT

EPA headquarters in Washington.

EPA headquarters in Washington. Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News

EPA yesterday sent a proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget with the announced purpose of "strengthening transparency and validity in regulatory science," according to the RegInfo.gov site.

The proposal appears to be a concrete step toward restricting the types of scientific research that EPA officials can use in crafting new regulations. The proposal was not listed on EPA’s latest semiannual regulatory agenda, and agency press aides did not respond to an emailed request for more information this morning.

"We need to make sure their [scientists’] data and methodology are published as part of the record," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet last month, in an article that the agency later distributed as a news release. "Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important."

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House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has repeatedly introduced "secret science reform" legislation that would bar EPA from using scientific data that are not "transparent or reproducible."

Smith has promoted the bill as a good government measure. Critics argue, however, that it’s intended to prevent the agency from using the best available science and could have steep implementation costs (E&E News PM, April 13, 2017).

While the House has passed various versions of the legislation several times, Smith has been unable to get the bill through the Senate. Newly released emails show that Pruitt and Smith met in January to discuss the issue. But the emails, obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group opposed to Smith’s legislation, also show that a top political appointee raised concerns about the potential impact on pesticide registration and on chemical regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (Climatewire, April 20).

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is now supposed to complete a standard interagency review of the proposed rule within 90 days but can seek more time if needed.

At a hearing last week, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) had pressed OIRA Administrator Neomi Rao for her stance on the issue (E&E Daily, April 13). Asked by Hassan whether she would "generally support agencies changing their procedures in ways that prevent them from using the best available evidence in making these decisions," Rao responded, "No, I would not."

If Rao "stays true" to that commitment, then "secret science has no business seeing the light of day," Yogin Kothari, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview today.

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