EPA ‘Secret Science’ Rule May Not See Daylight Until 2020 (1)

Oct. 17, 2018, 2:38 PM; Updated: Oct. 17, 2018, 6:04 PM

The EPA’s plans to restrict the type of science it will use to craft regulations is on the back burner for now.

The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing back its goal to issue the rule until January 2020, according to the administration’s fall regulatory agenda released Oct. 17.

That timeline means the April 30 proposal (RIN:2018-AA14) could languish at the agency for nearly two years. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had rushed out the plans to change what he dubbed the agency’s “secret science” rules, but even supporters of the approach have suggested it was poorly crafted.

The EPA proposal would reverse its decades-old approach to regulatory science. The plans would bar the EPA from using scientific research that includes data that isn’t or can’t be made public. That would include epidemiological studies, which often use private medical information that must be kept confidential.

Pushing back the timeline doesn’t mean EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will abandon the policy, observers say. And the EPA also says it isn’t delaying the policy but continuing with its internal rulemaking process.

“Given the scope and volume of public comments, the Agency’s review process cannot be rushed, and EPA has a significant amount of work ahead to fully consider and develop any final action,” Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman, said in a statement.

Abboud added prior regulatory agendas hadn’t yet listed a timeline for the EPA to finish the science rule. The EPA could also advance long-term actions more quickly than anticipated, he said.

Not Backing Off

“It may be pushed farther down the regulatory agenda, but I don’t see this administration backing off from that policy,” Norman Dupont, a partner at Ring Bender LLP in Costa Mesa, Calif., said at the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences Foundation conference in Amherst, Mass.

Dupont also suggested the EPA is digesting the hundreds of thousands of comments submitted on the proposal.

The approach has drawn sharp opposition from environmental groups, scientists, and public health researchers who say the plans will undercut the EPA’s ability to properly regulate air pollutants, toxic chemicals, and other environmental harms.

The EPA could use the longer timeline to tweak its proposal or to release a second version of its plans, as some supporters of the approach such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have urged.

“The lack of specific policy design has led to confusion among experts and particularly the media about the real consequences of this proposed rule,” the state agency said in comments to the EPA.

—With assistance from Sylvia Carignan.

(Updates with EPA statement in fifth, sixth and seventh paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Smith in Washington at asmith@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com

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