The Trump Administration saved one of its worst attacks on the environment for last. And several advocacy organizations tell TYT that it will cost lives.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has announced that the EPA has put into effect a rule banning the EPA from basing regulatory decisions on scientific studies that do not identify participants by name. This will effectively give many industries, including fossil fuel and tobacco companies, significantly more leeway to pollute and endanger the health of a broad spectrum of Americans, because many health studies routinely keep the identity of participants confidential to protect their privacy.
The rule, dubbed the Censored Science Rule, will have deadly consequences, says the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“If we cannot rely on studies using health data, we cannot set standards and it will cost lives. Tens of thousands of people die annually because of air pollution. If we cannot set standards to protect people, then we will see more deaths,” says Gretchen Goldman, Research Director Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists.
One of the largest environmental advocacy groups in the US agrees.
“The vagueness and ambiguity of the proposal makes it impossible for the public to understand fully what is at stake here. This is a broad and dangerous instrument,” says Senior Attorney Ben Levitan of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Both groups believe the Biden administration must prioritize reversing this ruling.
INDUSTRY LONG QUEST FOR A CENSOR SCIENCE RULE
The push to ban the use of studies without named participants began decades ago with the tobacco industry’s R.J. Reynolds, according to a letter sent to the EPA in 2018 by nine US senators, including now Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris. The drive to ban confidential scientific studies continued with fossil fuel companies including coal company Peabody Energy, the American Petroleum Institute, and The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). TASSC included big tobacco and donors like Amoco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Petroleum. Pro-business, anti-regulation advocates like the billionaire Koch brothers have supported this rule too.
FOSSIL FUEL CHAMPIONS
This rule to censor science found a champion in former Trump EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly sued the EPA to stop regulations connected to fossil fuel companies. Pruitt’s political campaigns received from energy related companies some $1.25 million in donations. Before being forced out by scandal, Pruitt was supported by now lobbyist Lamar Smith, the former Texas congressman and longtime fossil fuel advocate. Smith tried unsuccessfully to legislate a science censor bill. Smith’s campaigns received some $800,000 from oil and gas companies.
The science censoring rule has finally been realized by outgoing EPA administrator Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist and worked for oil advocate and climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) for 14 years.
WHEELER ANNOUNCES ANTI-ENVIRONMENT VICTORY
Administrator Wheeler spoke Tuesday morning to the conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute. EDF expected, and The New York Times reported, that Wheeler would announce that the EPA had approved the Censored Science Rule, which the Times obtained a copy of.
Wheeler made this major pro-business, anti-environment announcement before a friendly audience, while most of the country was focused on the Georgia US Senate elections, and just 15 days before the Trump administration leaves office: One last slam against the EPA and the environment. The EPA has already reversed more than 100 environmental regulations.
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Goldman told TYT this ruling is one of the worst. It “...affects the EPA from air pollution to drinking water to pesticide regulations," he said. "It sets a dangerous precedent for other agencies…”
And Goldman warns it may take years to reverse this ruling, during which time industries will delay setting up pollution standards by going to court and citing this ruling as a legal basis.
But the Center for Progressive Reform noted, "...the pick of Michael Regan to lead the EPA might turn out to be a shrewd one on this count ... He comes from an environmental science background, and he has some professional experience in re-building an environmental agency (North Carolina’s) that had been decimated under prior Republican control. That’s exactly the challenge he’ll face at rebuilding EPA, including getting rid of things like this bad science rule." James Goodwin, Senior Policy Analyst.
The EPA and the Biden Transition Team did not respond to TYT’s requests for comment.