The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by Richard Nixon in 1970, charged with the mission of making public health policy to protect human life and the environment. Over the past 50 years, the EPA has used the best available scientific research to create policies regulating pollutants in our environment that have saved millions of lives, and have helped to preserve our environment. The EPA also operates significant numbers of clean-up and recovery projects for polluted lakes, streams, and swaths of land fouled by industry dumping.
In January of this year, the EPA changed a rule to require that all studies used in setting public policy include the associated detailed raw data. This rule, called “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information” seems reasonable on the surface. More data means more transparency – but it goes too far. Most research studies do publish their raw data, but public health studies that examine large groups of people do not. A Federal law called The Privacy Rule limits who has access to health data. Researchers are legally and ethically prohibited from disclosing medical records.
Had this rule existed at the founding of the EPA, it would have prevented the Agency from using many of the most important scholarly research papers ever published, thereby not allowing them to regulate pollutants in water and air that we now know to be deadly.
The scientific community widely objects to this rule change. In the words of Chris Zarba, a former director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, “It sounds good on the surface. But this is a bold attempt to get science out of the way so special interests can do what they want.” The new Administration is expected to reverse this rule change, but that will take months or years.
By: Ellie Cabell
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