Judge scraps Trump’s ‘secret science’ rule

By Pamela King | 02/01/2021 01:25 PM EST

EPA headquarters in Washington.

EPA headquarters in Washington. Francis Chung/E&E News

This story was updated at 4:16 p.m. EST.

At the request of the Biden administration, a federal court today tossed out a Trump-era rule limiting the use of science to craft EPA regulations.

Today’s order by Chief Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana follows a plea yesterday by President Biden’s EPA to scrap the rule and send the issue back to the agency for further consideration.


The judge found last week the Trump administration could not speed up the rule’s effective date and expressed "significant doubt" that EPA had properly promulgated the rule.

"Under these circumstances, where EPA lacked the authority to promulgate the Final Rule, remand without vacatur would serve no useful purpose because EPA would not be able to cure that defect on remand," the Biden team wrote in its motion to the court yesterday.

EPA’s request stemmed from a lawsuit over the "Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information" rule, which is the culmination of efforts by the Trump administration to heed calls by conservatives and industry groups to eliminate use of "secret science" — where the underlying data cannot be disclosed or reproduced — in environmental rulemakings. The standard offers difficulty for studies that rely on subjects’ personal medical information.

The rule, finalized last month, instructed EPA to de-emphasize nonpublic scientific studies and to prioritize research that discloses "dose-response data," or the human health impact of a measured amount of a pollutant.

Critics said the rule could lead to weaker EPA regulations.

The Environmental Defense Fund, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Citizens for Clean Energy sued EPA to stop the Trump administration from speeding through a 30-day waiting period required under the Administrative Procedure Act. Morris, an Obama appointee, sided with the environmental groups in his decision last week (Greenwire, Jan. 28).

Lawyers for Biden’s EPA had asked the judge to take the next step of tossing out the rule before it took effect Friday.

"We are thankful that the Biden Administration has decided to prioritize science instead of demonize it," Anne Hedges, director of policy and legislative affairs for the Montana Environmental Information Center, said in a statement. "EPA’s quick action on this rule will make it easier for it to use science to pursue President Biden’s agenda to protect public health and address the climate crisis."