By Michael Halpern, Union of Concerned Scientists
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pushed back the public comment deadline on a major science proposal from the middle of the coronavirus pandemic peak to…the middle of the coronavirus pandemic peak. The proposal would handcuff EPA scientists by greatly restricting the scientific information that can be used in EPA decisions and scientific assessments. EPA political leaders want the option to force agency scientific experts to ignore some of the best evidence we have about how pollution makes people sick.
The original 30-day comment period was extended by thirty days to May 18. Yet on that date, many of the scientists and scientific and community organizations most affected by the proposal will continue to be on the front lines of coronavirus response. Others will be caring for kids out of school and family members that are sick. Thirty additional days is grossly inadequate to allow impacted communities and public health professionals to provide feedback.
During normal times, the government recommends a minimum 60-day comment period for the simplest of proposals. These are not normal times, and this is not a simple proposal. Numerous science and public health organizations (including UCS) pled with the agency to extend the public comment by at least 60 days, plus a 30-day period beyond the end of the national public health emergency. We also asked for virtual public hearings. These pleas have so far been rebuffed.
How you can help
UCS developed a guide to assist you in commenting on the proposal, and if you are able to do so, you should. We are also providing resources and support for writing effective public comments. Please take the time to comment for those who can’t.
Also, the agency still refuses to hold a single virtual public hearing. To ensure that the EPA gets as much feedback as possible, UCS will hosting a virtual public hearing on the EPA’s behalf on April 14. If the EPA won’t do its job, we will do it for them. Scores of people have already signed up for morning, afternoon, or evening sessions. Join them here.
Medical professionals are busy saving lives. The neighborhoods most affected by EPA decisions are busy protecting themselves and are desperately seeking help. Meanwhile daily White House briefings and shifting responses to the epidemic seem to do more harm than good. Moving forward with this proposal now—which has no urgency and dismissed the very epidemiological science we are relying on in this crisis—is an insult to everyone involved in stopping more unnecessary COVID-19 deaths.