EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is considering a plan to restrict the agency’s use of scientific data to only that data which is publicly available. The move would prevent EPA from using private studies, dubbed “secret science,” to justify actions such as passing new regulations. It is not yet clear whether Pruitt will attempt to use this potential plan to attack regulations already on the books, but if he does, we could see the rollback of regulations and standards that are based on confidential human health data.
In support of his plan, Pruitt stated:
We need to make sure their data and methodology are published as part of the record. Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.
But critics like former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy disagree. McCarthy, along with former EPA official Janet McCabe, stated that the plan would prevent the use of reliable, peer reviewed articles that are based on personal heath data gathered from individuals with guarantees that it would remain private. These types of studies have long been used to set environmental and other regulatory standards in the United States. If EPA decides that it can no longer justify their use, the move could have broad impacts on all federal agency decisions that rely on the use of confidential human health data.
While we have not yet seen the details of Pruitt’s plan, it is likely to face legal challenges once it is implemented. A number of federal environmental statues require EPA to use the “best available science” in developing standards. There is no legal requirement that this “best available science” also show up in a Google search. But supporters of the plan argue that this level of transparency is required to demonstrate that the data is objectively sound and subject to reproduction. The magnitude of the plan’s impact will only be known when it is made public, but based on the controversy that is already brewing, we can expect that its implementation will not have an easy road.