The EPA is set to publish on Tuesday a long-awaited final rule that fundamentally shifts the way science is considered in agency rulemaking, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science (RIN:2080-AA14) rule would block the Environmental Protection Agency from using nonpublic epidemiological studies that contain private medical information when it drafts new rules.
Sometimes dubbed the “secret science” rule, it has elicited ardent protests from environmentalists and congressional Democrats. The Biden administration may launch a new rulemaking to strike the rule down, although doing so would take years. The rule is also likely to lead to immediate legal action from opponents.
The EPA’s new approach would mark a sharp break from its decades-old method of rulemaking, which had been to analyze the health impacts of pollution by drawing on epidemiological studies that contain private medical information.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce the final rule at a virtual event hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The rule would be the latest in a flurry of final regulations issued by the EPA as the Trump administration winds down.
Issuing New Standards
The EPA has said the rule will make more and better information available so stakeholders can understand and take part in future rulemakings—while at the same time protecting confidential and personally identifiable information.
But environmentalists and congressional Democrats have firmly rejected the rule, framing it as a way of making it harder for the EPA to issue new standards by severely narrowing the kinds of data it can draw upon.
The rule was also at the heart of a dispute between the EPA’s political leadership and its Science Advisory Board, a group of outside experts that reviews the quality of scientific and technical information the agency uses in regulations.
In June 2018, the board asked then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to let it review the rule in its proposed form. Nearly 10 months later, current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler asked the board to consult on only one part: how to ensure secure access to business data and personally identifiable information used in scientific studies.
Several board members objected to what they deemed a limited role in the deliberations. The board has since said the rule could constitute a “license to politicize” the scientific evaluation process.
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