EPA revamps ‘secret science’ rule

EPA revamp of 'secret science' rule will keep limiting research, scientists say

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) walked back a component of one its most controversial proposal Thursday, weakening an effort that would have restricted the agency from considering scientific studies that don’t make their underlying data public.

The tweaks are not garnering support from the scientific community, however, as it expands the 2018 proposal in other ways.

The so-called “Secret Science” proposal, a nickname given when it was first pushed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt, spurred over 600,000 comments, many of which criticized the agency for penning policy that would block consideration of some landmark public health research.

The administration has argued the rule is necessary for transparency, but it has struggled with how to offer a workaround for key studies that wouldn’t be able to share their data publicly without exposing subjects’ personal information.

It’s Thursday update doesn’t abandon the policy’s underlying goal, but rather than exclude some research entirely, the agency would now give preference to studies with public data.

“Other things being equal, the agency will give greater consideration to studies where the underlying data and models are available in a manner sufficient for independent validation,” EPA wrote in the new proposal.

But the newest version of the rule would also apply this standard more broadly, covering an even wider variety of scientific research. It also expands its scope, putting the “Secret Science” principles in practice not just when EPA weighs a new regulation but also in other agency activities.

Betsy Southerland, who was director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water under the Obama administration, said those features make the proposal worse overall by expanding its reach.

Scientists also argue it will still favor certain research and give the administration the political power to ignore studies that conflict with their policy goals.

“They are basically going to say the studies where the data is publicly available are better than studies where the data isn’t publicly available, irrespective of how good and important the science and the evidence is,” said Andrew Rosenberg with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s totally not scientific and nonsensical.”

Read more about the new proposal here.

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