Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has completed one of its last big rollbacks, shifting how it views evidence of damage from pollution in a way that critics claim will cripple future regulation of public health.
In a Zoom appearance on Tuesday before the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, the EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, formally announced the completion of what he calls the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” law. The final rule was finalized last week by the EPA.
The new regulation will require the publishing of raw data from public health research used by the EPA to assess the danger of air pollution, hazardous chemicals or other hazards.
Wide public health research analyzing the confidential findings of countless individuals have been instrumental in setting limits on hazardous pollutants, including some of the most substantial protections for clean air in the country.
For a long time, some business and conservative groups have advocated for what they call the law of accountability. Opponents say the aim is to hamper future legislation and public health interventions.
In an opinion piece on Monday night in The Wall Street Journal, Wheeler said the move was in the interests of accountability.
“If the American people are to be regulated by the interpretation of these scientific studies, they deserve to have the data reviewed as part of the scientific process and American self-governance,” Wheeler wrote.
But critics warn the new regulation could force the disclosure in public health research of people’s identities and information, jeopardizing patient confidentiality and potential studies.
At public hearings, researchers, scientists, universities, public health and medical officials, environmental groups and others spoke and wrote to protest the move.
This really seems to be an attempt by Wheeler to permanently let the big polluters trample on public health,”This really seems to be an attempt by Wheeler to let the big polluters trample on public health permanently,” “It ties the hands of future governments on how to protect public health.”
Chris Zarba, former head of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, said in a statement that the move could not only restrict potential public health safeguards, but “force the agency to revoke decades of clean air protections,”
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Wheeler said that the new limits would not require personal data to be published or “categorically” exclude scientific work. In enforcing Donald Trump’s mandate to roll back regulations that conservative organizations have described as excessive and burdensome to industry, the EPA has become one of the most involved agencies.
Many of the amendments are subject to legal challenge and may be repealed by executive order or a lengthy administrative process.
But eliminating them will take time and commitment on the part of the current Biden administration, which also has ambitious objectives to combat climate-damaging emissions of fossil fuels and reduce the effects of pollution on low-income and minority communities.