Casten Pins Down EPA on Science

November 18, 2019
In The News

Proposed new “transparency” rules at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would actually block the government watchdog from using scientific data, according to critics.

The EPA has submitted a draft it calls Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science that would actually limit the scientific data the agency uses by calling for it to be more transparent. At issue, according to The New York Times, is that the proposal would call for even confidential medical records to be made public as a condition for them being accepted as science.

The article stated: “The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements.”

“We are committed to the highest quality science,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified before a congressional committee in September. “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”

But that demand would not only limit the data available to the agency, it “could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place,” according to the Times. In short, removing the data on, say, a cancer cluster that had been discovered could allow the EPA to reassess regulations meant to address the causes of that public health risk.

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove, who prides himself on his scientific background, grilled EPA science adviser Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta on that this week. During a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, he questioned Orme-Zavaleta on the agency’s claims that the new rules “will not apply to any regulations already in place.”

Under persistent questioning, the EPA official allowed that air and water regulations are subject to a “statutory schedule” for reassessment and “a regular schedule for updating.”

“So, given that EPA can reconsider any regulations that it deems necessary and with the mandatory reconsiderations, is it safe to say that any existing regulation can be ultimately rewritten within the bounds of this proposed rule, should it be finalized?” Casten said.

“Should this rule be finalized,” Orme-Zavaleta responded, “then it will apply prospectively to new rules and regulations.” But she added that those “new rules” included old regulations “the agency may decide to update.”

Charging that the Trump administration was made up of “science deniers” and that the draft had originally been proposed decades ago by a “tinfoil-hat-wearing climate denier” who went on to serve on President Trump’s transition team, he said the EPA’s insistence that the new standards would only apply to new regulations was “fundamentally disingenuous.” Casten called on Orme-Zavaleta to “stand up” to any efforts to undermine the scientific foundation behind EPA regulations. “Look, this is painful,” Casten said. “And, we’re sitting at a moment where none of this assault on science happens if people in your shoes stand up. If, and when you stand up, we’ve got your back, but please stand up.”

In a separate opinion piece printed this week in the Chicago Tribune, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth similarly charged that the Trump administration was systematically trying to roll back the Clean Water Act. Calling the Trump government an “environmentally bankrupt administration,” she said Trump was working to undermine the act’s protections.

“The Clean Water Act provides a strong foundation that should be strengthened,” Duckworth stated. “Yet the Trump administration is relentless in its zeal to do the exact opposite: weaken and damage this seminal law so that polluters can profit, while Americans suffer the consequences of unsafe water.”

She blamed contaminated drinking water, toxic game fish, and increasingly frequent beach closings due to high pollution levels on the Trump administration’s failure to adequately enforce the Clean Water Act.