Pruitt Proposes EPA Science Restrictions

Apr 25, 2018
Originally published on April 27, 2018 6:26 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

EPA director Scott Pruitt is still defending himself against ethics violations, but in the meantime, he is making huge changes at the agency he leads. Most recently, Pruitt wants to overhaul the way the EPA looks at science when making regulations. The move would limit the EPA to only studies and research that disclose all of their data. Pruitt says this move is about transparency. But, as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, critics worry it could prevent the agency from using good science that helps to protect human health.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: The basis for the proposed rule change is a long-held complaint by some Republican lawmakers and industry that the EPA has built regulations on the back of flawed, partisan, agenda-driven science. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has echoed those complaints and says that the proposed rule change will address them by ensuring that all of the science and research his agency uses is publicly available.

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SCOTT PRUITT: It is a codification of an approach that says, as we do our business at the agency, the science that we use is going to be transparent, it's going to be reproducible. It's going to be able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace, and those that watch what we do can make informed decisions about whether we've drawn the proper conclusions or not.

ROTT: On its face, the idea sounds pretty nice, says Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

ANDREW ROSENBERG: But the EPA is a public health agency. A lot of what it relies on are studies that use people's medical records.

ROTT: Information that is confidential.

ROSENBERG: So they're basically saying we're no longer going to use public health information to put in place public health protections. And that makes absolutely no sense.

ROTT: Rosenberg was one of nearly a thousand scientists that signed a letter urging Pruitt to not make this change. He likened it to putting on blinders, ignoring solid, peer reviewed science that shows the health impacts of everything from air pollution to toxic waste to pesticides. Supporters of the shift, though, hope that it does lead to policy change. Dr. Tim Huelskamp is the president of The Heartland Institute, a free market think tank that questions the science of climate change.

TIM HUELSKAMP: There are folks on the right that are hoping that this will undo some burdensome regulations. We think it will do that at the end.

ROTT: He points to regulations around particulates, air pollutants like lead and ozone that impact air quality. Also, the social cost of carbon, which aims to put a public price on carbon dioxide, a main driver of climate change. Whether that happens or not is still unclear. Like many of the policy changes at EPA, this too is just a proposal implementing the change and demonstrating a strong legal basis to do so could take a while yet. And Pruitt is facing challenges of his own, a string of allegations about ethical misconduct and several investigations. He'll face questions about that on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

MARTIN: Nathan Rott reporting on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.