EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says his proposal would raise confidence in agency rules, but critics are not confident.
CAPITAL PRESS – DON JENKINS – The science behind Environmental Protection Agency regulations should be publicly available and detailed enough for independent verification, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Tuesday before signing a proposed rule on how the agency makes major decisions.
It’s unclear how the proposed rule would affect agriculture, but Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said he welcomed grounding EPA decisions in science that’s the best and also available.
“Our experience has been that improvements can be made to improve the process,” he said. “We should at least agree we can make good decisions based on good information, period. That is foundational to a democracy.”
Pruitt signed the proposed rule at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., flanked by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. The lawmakers are sponsoring legislation similar to Pruitt’s proposal.
The EPA said the rule is intended to make the agency’s major regulations transparent and objective. The rule would bring the agency in line with the policies of scientific journals and respond to concerns that many studies can’t be replicated, the EPA said.
The EPA will take comments on the rule for 30 days. The EPA is also soliciting comments on whether it should extend the same principles to lesser decisions, such as issuing permits for a particular project.
Pruitt linked the rule to last year barring the EPA from making regulations to settle lawsuits and prohibiting scientists who receive EPA grants from advising the agency.
“It’s an agency taking responsibility for how it works and respecting process,” Pruitt said. “So we can do what? Enhance confidence in our decision-making.”
Seven Democratic U.S. senators, including Jeff Merkley of Oregon, indicated in a letter to Pruitt they were becoming less confident in the EPA’s use of science. The senators complained the rule would keep the EPA from considering all the information submitted to it.
“The proposed new policy would require EPA to use only data that are public and reproducible,” the senators wrote, as a criticism.
Washington Farm Bureau director of government relations Tom Davis said that he hoped the rule will diminish the role of politics in EPA regulations.
“It’s going to be a data-driven process, not whose politics are on top,” he said. “Shouldn’t transparency and accountability drive what all agencies do? We applaud what Pruitt is intending.”
The EPA, in a footnote to the proposed rule, cited two EPA rules that withstood court challenges, but would not have passed muster under Pruitt’s plan.
In the first case, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in 2002, in a lawsuit brought by the American Trucking Associations, that the EPA was not obligated to obtain and publicize the data underlying the studies that the agency relied on to set emission limits for particulate matter and ozone.
In the second case, also involving the D.C. court, judges in 2012 rejected a lawsuit by the Coalition of Battery Recyclers, ruling that the EPA could make inferences from studies on how lead affects the IQ of children.
In its request for comments on the proposed rule, EPA also asked for remarks on whether the terms of EPA grants should “incorporate stronger data.” An EPA grant to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Swinomish Indian tribe funded the What’s Upstream public relations and lobbying campaign for mandatory 100-foot buffers in Washington.
Photo: Courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency