The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.
A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal, titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions.
EPA officials called the plan a step towards transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently.
“We are committed to the highest quality science,” Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, told a congressional committee in September. “Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny.”
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.
And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.
“This means the EPA can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association.
Public health experts warned that studies that have been used for decades — to show, for example, that mercury from power plants impairs brain development, or that lead in paint dust is tied to behavioural disorders in children — might be inadmissible when existing regulations come up for renewal.
Last week the house committee on science, space and technology will hold a hearing on the EPA’s efforts.
A top pulmonary specialist and a representative of the country’s largest nonprofit funder of research on Parkinson’s disease, the Michael J Fox Foundation, are expected to testify that the EPA’s proposed rule would eliminate the use of valuable research showing the dangers of pollution to human health.
The New York Times
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