EPA ‘Transparency’ Rule Uses Tobacco Industry Playbook to Target Environmental Health Studies

Apr 30, 2018

A new proposed rule would bar EPA from considering scientific studies that don’t release their data publicly or that haven’t been independently verified. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt says the rule would increase transparency, strengthen the science behind EPA regulations, and end the era of ‘secret science.’ But the rule has prompted strong condemnation from the science community.

Both supporters and opponents of the rule say it could be the most consequential EPA action of the Trump administration, and agree that one particular study, known as the Harvard Six Cities Study, is at the heart of the effort. That study ties certain air pollution to increased risk of death, and has been cited in previous regulations. However, under the new rule, that study – and many other long-term public health studies – could not be used by EPA because the underlying private health data can’t be released.

Scott Waldman, a climate politics reporter with Energy and Environment News, says the strategy goes back to the tobacco wars of the 1990s, and notes that several tobacco industry advocates were present for the announcement of the new rule.

“This is really a technique that conservatives here in Washington have been pushing for decades,” Waldman said.

Representative Lamar Smith has tried multiple times to pass legislation that would impose similar limits. The House has okayed the measures, but the Senate has never taken them up. 

“They kind of did an end run around Congress with this,” Waldman said.

The rule is not yet in effect. There is a required public comment period before the rule can be finalized. And expected legal challenges from a range of environmental and science advocacy groups could further delay implementation of the rule.