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Pruitt Science Censorship Plan Is Big Test for Wheeler

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For Immediate Release: Aug 15, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Pruitt Science Censorship Plan Is Big Test for Wheeler

Legally Dubious Curbs on Scientific Studies Hamstring Public Health Protections

Washington, DC — Scott Pruitt’s ouster from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has left his successor to deal with the steaming mess of a radical plan to drastically limit the type of scientific studies EPA may consider in regulatory decision-making. Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s Acting Administrator, should immediately withdraw Pruitt’s unprecedented, unworkable, and legally questionable plan, according to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Proposed by Pruitt last April under the guise of promoting “scientific transparency”, the plan has drawn wide criticism in scientific circles and even protests from EPA’s own Science Advisory Board.  In its comments, PEER highlights several concerns, including that the Pruitt plan –

  • Conflicts with statutorily required reliance on the “best available science” by largely precluding consideration of human health studies because patient records are not public;
  • Presumes the safety of chemicals by expressing a preference for models that assume limited exposure will not adversely impact human health when the opposite is true; and
  • Empowers the EPA Administrator to unilaterally pick and choose which studies will be exempted from new requirements.

“This is a crude, political effort to reduce the sum total of human knowledge available to EPA,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that Pruitt’s plan does not say who will pay for making data sets, some of which are massive and complex, compliant with prescribed disclosure requirements.  “Pruitt’s plan is rooted in a deep, and we suspect deliberate, ignorance on how science works and how scientific knowledge advances.”

One of the plan’s major effects would be to disallow consideration of the overwhelming percentage of scientific findings contained in peer-reviewed journals, regardless of the rigor of scientific standards. For example, in a random sample conducted of biomedical literature published between the years 2000 and 2014, not one of 268 papers shared all of their raw data.

Besides its impact on regulations protecting human health and the environment, the proposal would work to constrain the type of science that EPA itself utilizes and finances.

“This rule would cripple EPA’s scientific research program because it would be absurd for EPA to pay for scientific work that it could not consider,” asked Bennett. “How Acting Administrator Wheeler handles this stunningly misguided anti-science initiative will be a telling indication as to whether he will continue Pruitt’s posture as a political ideologue or be a rational decision-maker who looks at the facts and merits.” 

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Read the PEER comments

View the Pruitt science proposal

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