Science

EPA science advisers want chance to comment on controversial transparency plan

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Don’t do anything until we get a chance to weigh in.

The 44-member Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to revise or finalize a controversial proposed rule on data transparency until it can analyze it and offer comments.

“[T]he precise design of the proposed rule appears to have been developed without a public process for soliciting input specifically from the scientific community,” states the 28 June letter signed by SAB Chair Michael Honeycutt, who directs the Toxicology Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Austin. 

The letter also raises a number of thorny issues the board wants to examine, including how much implementing the rule might cost and how it might “infringe on legitimate confidentiality and privacy interests.” There are “a number of scientific issues that would benefit from expert advice and comment from the SAB,” the board tells Pruitt.

The letter marks the latest salvo in the debate over the proposed rule. Advocates say it would make the scientific basis for regulations stronger by requiring that all underlying data be disclosed. But critics argue it is a thinly veiled effort to prevent regulators from tapping influential air pollution and other studies that rest on confidential health records or hard-to-replicate study designs.

Pruitt unveiled the proposal in a closed event on 25 April. Last month, the agency announced it would accept public comment through 16 August. On 17 July there will be a public hearing on the plan in Washington, D.C.

Last month, an SAB working group recommended that the advisory body, which includes more than a dozen of Pruitt’s appointees, review the proposal. But some EPA officials have suggested the rule could be finalized before that review is complete.

The SAB letter notes that by law, the body is supposed to advise EPA on “the adequacy of the scientific and technical basis” of a proposed action. It is not clear, however, whether Pruitt needs to wait for its advice before moving forward with a regulatory decision.

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