Shapiro Takes on Pruitt's Pseudo-Transparency Rule

Matthew Freeman

May 29, 2018

While most of the press EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting these days has to do with his various over-spending scandals, his more lasting impact is likely to be his scorched-earth approach to environmental protections. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, CPR’s Sid Shapiro highlighted one way Pruitt hopes to make an across-the-board, anti-environment impact: By limiting the scope of scientific studies that his agency may consider when developing safeguards.

Under the guise of greater transparency, Pruitt is proposing to restrict the use of studies for which the underlying data is not completely available to the public. That may sound reasonable on its face, but the reality is that plenty of important research and knowledge derives from studies for which some measure of confidentiality is a must. Medical studies typically protect the confidential information of participating patients, for example.

As Shapiro notes,

Tellingly, EPA indicated it might protect the underlying information if it was confidential business data. This means the agency might accept industry-sponsored studies for which the underlying data are not public as long as the corporations that sponsor the studies claim such information is confidential. This would create a transparent double standard that is anti-regulatory in effect: corporate-sponsored "secret science" may be OK, but academic science for which some of the underlying data are not available for legitimate reasons would not be. 

He goes on to make a broader point, distinguishing pure science from regulatory science:

In enacting laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, Congress wisely guarded against paralysis by analysis, recognizing the goals of regulation and pure scientific exploration are different. If we waited for definitive proof that a chemical or other substance is harmful, thousands of people may die or be injured as a result of not acting sooner.

This is only one of the policy-based norms that are used in regulatory science — norms that have saved thousands of lives and protected wildlife and our environment. No one pretends that the same norms are appropriate in pure science itself, and this is where Pruitt’s proposed rule makes no sense. It is moving a scientific norm into the environmental policy sphere.

Check out Shapiro’s piece, here.

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