Before scandal-ridden Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passed the reins to an ex-coal lobbyist, the Trump appointee launched an "alarming" effort to significantly limit what scientific studies the agency can use when crafting public health regulations—and according to new reporting, he excluded some the agency's own experts from process.
"It's astounding that the EPA science adviser's office was left completely out of the loop during the development of a major science policy proposal."
—Michael Halpern, UCS
On April 24—the same day that Pruitt publicly unveiled a rule that experts warned "serves no purpose other than to prevent the EPA from carrying out its mission"—Tom Sinks, head of the EPA's Office of the Science Advisor, wrote in an email that although he was listed as a point of contact and "the proposal likely touches upon three aspects of OSA work—public access to EPA funded research, human subjects research protection, and scientific integrity," he had not even seen it until that day.
Sinks' email was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and obtained by the Washington Post. While the agency claimed in a statement that "EPA received input from a number of stakeholders and utilized the intra and interagency process to ensure a robust proposal was put forward," critics say the revelation suggests the exclusion of OSA was politically motivated.
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"It's astounding that the EPA science adviser's office was left completely out of the loop during the development of a major science policy proposal," Michael Halpern, deputy director of UCS's center for science and democracy, told the Post. "Crafting any significant proposal behind closed doors without even bothering to notify career scientific staff suggests that it's much more about politics than it is about science."
The proposed rule is similar to a measure before Congress called the HONEST Act, which UCS's Andrew Rosenberg warned in March "is a Trojan-horse transparency bill that, among other things, would make it harder for the EPA to use public health studies to finalize science-based public health protections." The measures aim to block the agency from relying on private-sector studies that are based on epidemiological data which, due to patient or proprietary information, must remain confidential.
Published in the Federal Register on April 30, the comment period for Pruitt's so-called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule was extended through mid-August. An agency spokesperson told the Post it has garnered more than 590,000 comments. The newspaper noted that at least 69 prominent scientific, medical, and academic groups have come out against it.