WHITE HOUSE

OMB backdates completion date for 'secret science' review

The White House has altered an official timeline to show that a required review of a proposed EPA science rule was finished one day before agency Administrator Scott Pruitt signed it this past Tuesday.

The Reginfo.gov site had previously shown that the proposal cleared Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday, indicating Pruitt went forward with the signing before the interagency review was complete.

OMB backdated that to Monday after E&E News reported the discrepancy yesterday (Greenwire, April 26).

Coalter Baker, a spokesman for the budget office, would not provide an on-the-record explanation as to the reason for the change. At EPA, spokeswoman Liz Bowman had earlier said in a statement that the review was finished before the signing, adding that "any questions about the management" of the Reginfo.gov site should be addressed to OMB.

"This is all highly irregular," Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, said later in an interview. "Either it speaks to a significant lack of competence at EPA or OMB, or there is some sort of funny business or cover-up going on." The association, which has been critical of the proposal, closely tracks EPA rulemakings related to air quality issues.

The proposed rule, which has already sparked considerable controversy, would effectively bar EPA from using scientific research in crafting new regulations unless the underlying data are made public.

"I think it enhances transparency and the confidence of the American people as we do rulemaking," Pruitt said in the proposal's defense at a hearing yesterday of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment.

Critics say the aim is to keep EPA from tapping studies that could signal the need for tighter pollution regulations.

"The result will be policies and practices that will ignore significant risks to the health of every American," almost 1,000 scientists and technical experts said in a letter to Pruitt earlier this week released by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle quizzed Pruitt on the proposal at yesterday's hearing, with Republicans praising his approach and Democrats panning it. EPA is set to open a 30-day public comment period on the draft rule Monday, according to an upcoming Federal Register notice.

The purpose of the OMB reviews is to get feedback on regulatory proposals from other agencies and outside groups. The Reginfo.gov site serves as a clearinghouse on the status of rulemakings across government.

At a separate hearing two weeks ago, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) had sought to pin down Neomi Rao, head of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, on her views of the appropriate handling of scientific research (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."

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Assuming that the revised completion date on the site is now accurate, however, Rao's office hustled the proposed science rule back to EPA only four days after receiving it on April 19 (Greenwire, April 20.) Under the long-standing executive order that governs the reviews, they can typically last as long as 90 days. Of the half-dozen other EPA regulatory measures still at OMB, most have been under review for approximately two weeks or more, according to the Reginfo.gov site.

Hassan is "deeply concerned" that Rao signed off so quickly on a draft regulation that "could have far-reaching impacts" on the public and the environment, spokeswoman Ricki Eshman said in a statement yesterday. She "will continue urging Pruitt to reconsider this senseless proposal."

Baker, the OMB spokesman, did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Twitter: @SeanatGreenwire Email: sreilly@eenews.net

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