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New Trump EPA Rule Against “Junk Science” Trashes Real Science

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  Yesterday, the Trump Administration’s EPA Administrator spoke during an online press conference to announce a new regulation that he said would end EPA’s use of “secret science” in federal government decisions to control pollution from industry.

 “Why would anyone want our decisions to be made in secret?” Administrator Andrew Wheeler asked. “In the past, increased transparency strengthened EPA’s credibility among the public.  I continue to pursue that legacy today.”

The new regulation – called the “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science” rule -- prioritizes which public health studies EPA can use as the basis for future pollution control rules. It allows political appointees to de-emphasize or put aside scientific research that does not reveal to industry underlying details such as the names of patients surveyed and their personal medical histories. This kind of disclosure is often impractical or impossible, because medical researchers interview patients under promises of confidentiality.

  

The press conference was hosted not by the EPA – which would have been normal for an EPA announcement -- but by a conservative, anti-regulatory advocacy group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  One of its directors, Myron Ebell, heaped praise on the Trump Administration’s new rule.

“This rule not only solves a piece of the problem in the interaction between science and regulations, but it also contributes to the wider conversation that we need to do about the secret junk science problem that is plaguing our society,” Ebell said.

To many scientists, the new rule is outrageous because the main ‘junk science’ problem plaguing America comes from a Trump Administration that ignores science. The administration refuses to accept the scientific consensus about climate change and COVID-19, for example, wreaking havoc on public health and the planet’s ecosystem.

Betsy Southerland is a former Director of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water.

“Junk science is really – to them -- any science that indicates the actions of industry – their emissions to the air, water, and land -- are actually having a public health impact,” Southerland said. “And so they want to block EPA from being allowed to use those studies, and then therefore be able to regulate industry.”

A particular target, Southerland said, is a 1994 Harvard School of Public Health study that found microscopic particles of soot from industry kill tens of thousands of Americans every year. This study served as the basis of EPA regulation restricting particulate air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Chris Zarba is a former Director of EPA Science Advisory Board. He said all of the major U.S. scientific organizations testified against the Trump Administration’s allegedly pro-scientific integrity rule during hearings last year, including the American Lung Association and Union of Concerned Scientists.

 “If all of these science organizations were against it, who wrote it? And where did it come from?” Zarba asked.  “I found out that it was authored by a guy who worked with the tobacco industry back in the 1990s. There was an effort back then to keep tobacco sales up by creating questions into whether tobacco was really addictive and bad for your health.”

That former tobacco industry lobbyist, Stephen Milloy – who so skillfully manufactured doubt about the science surrounding cigarettes and cancer  – also helped write the new Trump administration scientific integrity rules, Zarba said.

In other words, the Trump EPA – allegedly a clean-air agency – is in bed with a tobacco industry lobbyist, even as it is currently being run by a former coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler. 

The pollutants rise from the very top of this administration, even in its final dying hours.

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The Environment in Focus is independently owned and distributed by Environment in Focus Radio to WYPR and other stations. The program is sponsored by the Abell Foundation. The views expressed are solely Tom Pelton's. You can contact him at 

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.