By Yogin Kothari, Union of Concerned Scientists
Newly released documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists under three separate Freedom of Information Act requests and first reported on by POLITICO demonstrate that the Trojan horse “secret science” proposal being floated by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is entirely driven by politics.
“Since Pruitt announced plans for the new policy last month, researchers and public health proponents have raised alarms that it could restrict the agency’s ability to consider a broad swath of data about the effects of pollution on human health. But documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that top EPA officials are more worried the new restrictions would prevent the agency from considering industry studies that frequently support their efforts to justify less stringent regulations.”
Limiting the EPA’s ability to use vital public health studies
The documents also confirm that the anti-science chairman of the House Science Committee, Representative Lamar Smith, initiated a conversation with Administrator Pruitt about implementing his long-failed “secret science” legislation through administrative means on January 9, 2018. (See email below).
“But Smith found an ally in Pruitt. The emails indicate that Smith met with Pruitt in early January and show that Pruitt’s staff quickly began working on a directive to “internally implement” the legislation.”
Chairman Smith also argued for and previously introduced legislation to limit the ability of independent scientists who received agency grants to provide EPA advice on its decisions. While the legislation never passed Congress, EPA implemented a similar directive last fall.
While EPA has argued on a partisan website that the policy would be about transparency in science-based decisions, the documents obtained by UCS confirm that this is not the case. The resurrection of Chairman Smith’s misguided proposal is nothing but a political attempt to restrict the ability of EPA to use the best available science to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and the environment.
What the documents show
In the documents released by the EPA, there are no concerns raised about the policy’s impacts on public health protections, or any suggestion to receive feedback from the broader scientific community, which has slammed this distorted effort previously.
However, emails between several EPA political appointees, including Nancy Beck, a former stafferfor the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the chemical industry’s trade association; and Richard Yamada, a former staffer for House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, show that the small group was grappling with how to incorporate loopholes and exemptions to limit the impact of the directive on industry data. (See below).
The emails also show that the concerns around confidential business information raised by Beck in her current job as the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (which is in charge of protecting the public from risks from toxic chemicals) are eerily similar to concerns she raised about data transparency last year in front of a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee, on behalf of her previous employer at the time and ardent supporter of Chairman Smith’s ill-conceived legislative proposal, the ACC.
Ultimately, what is crystal clear is that the EPA is still finding ways to abandon the tools that the agency needs to do its job. The proposal, if it is ever released, is not scientifically driven, and is simply a political ploy to undermine EPA’s ability to use independent scientific analysis. You can go through all the documents that were released to UCS here, here, and here.