Selected category: Health

The Misguided Regulatory Accountability Act

00001-3-e1488835368971 (1)Many of the features of the Regulatory Accountability Act render it a disastrous piece of legislation for public health, safety, and the environment. By tying up essential safeguards in enormous amounts of red tape, the legislation would covertly undermine longstanding protections for child safety, food safety, auto safety, and other broadly shared values.

But the key problem is not just that the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose needlessly convoluted, burdensome requirements on federal agencies: it is that it would impose needlessly convoluted, burdensome requirements that we know have failed in the past.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect many of the worst features of the former, failed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA was supposed to protect the public from dangerous chemicals, but for many years—before the recent enactment of reforms aimed at curing its substantial defects—it made regulatory decision-making so burdensome, that it effectively prevented regulators from doing their jobs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failed attempt to regulate asbestos under the pre-reform TSCA offers a telling example of how important safeguards are stymied under this decision-making framework. Over 25 years ago, EPA had tried to employ TSCA to protect the public from asbestos. The Agency spent 10 years analyzing asbestos’ effects on health and considering policy options along with their economic implications. After this exhaustive investigation, documented in over 45,000 pages of supporting materials, EPA issued a final rule that called for a phased-in ban on the use of asbestos in commercial products.

But EPA’s efforts to protect the public were rejected. Asbestos manufacturers sued, contending that EPA’s meticulous decision-making was still inadequate to meet the onerous standards of TSCA. A court agreed, vacating the rule in 1991 on the basis that “EPA failed to muster substantial evidence to support its rule” under TSCA’s mandates—despite the Agency’s voluminous record justifying a phase-out of asbestos. Following this ordeal, EPA all but gave up, never again trying to ban a chemical under the old TSCA.

In the years following the asbestos fiasco, broad agreement began to emerge that TSCA was a failure due to its inability to protect Americans and to provide certainty to businesses. In a bid to address these deficiencies, Congress finally reformed TSCA last year through legislation that was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would reverse this progress, with implications far beyond TSCA—major aspects of the Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect features of the pre-reform, failed TSCA and apply them to all federal safeguards. That bears repeating:  passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose requirements similar to those that had doomed the old TSCA and extend those requirements to all federal agencies, with detrimental implications for the development of new food safety requirements, veterans’ care standards, pollution controls, and other essential protections for public health, safety, and the environment. I discuss two key examples below.

First, the Regulatory Accountability Act would impose an unworkable, cost-based decision standard, setting up agencies for paralysis by analysis that would obstruct protections for Americans.

The pre-reform TSCA demanded that EPA prove it had selected the “least burdensome” regulatory option when promulgating a rule. If EPA had wanted to adopt an option any more burdensome than the “least burdensome” one—for example, banning the sale of asbestos, instead of just labeling asbestos-containing products—TSCA required that the Agency perform a full risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis of every less burdensome alternative, and prove each alternative was insufficient to address the risk. These requirements imposed evidentiary and analytic burdens on EPA that proved impossible to meet, effectively tying the Agency’s hands with respect to protecting the public from hazardous chemicals.

The newly reformed TSCA eliminated all of these problems in the service of regulatory efficiency and certainty. Under the reformed statute, EPA is required to demonstrate that it has considered key factors—including costs and risk—and has reached a rational conclusion. But it is not required to prove that its decision meets a specific cost-based decision metric, as it was under the pre-reform TSCA.

Yet the Regulatory Accountability Act would revive the pre-reform TSCA approach, imposing an onerous analytic cost-based standard for major protections. All federal agencies generally would be required to prove that their rule met the specific analytic standard laid out in the Act. The Act would also require agencies to consider and analyze substantial alternatives or other responses identified by interested persons, without imposing any clear limit on how many alternatives that would entail, and regardless of whether information concerning those alternatives was reasonably available. In addition, for major or high-impact rules, agencies would have to conduct formal cost-benefit analysis and other analyses on each such alternative. Any deviation from these nitpicky procedures, meanwhile, could prompt a court to toss out the promulgated regulation, regardless of the threat to the public as result of the regulation’s demise.

A second example of how the Regulatory Accountability Act would resurrect failed features of the pre-reform TSCA law would be through its imposition of a requirement on agencies to hold needless, burdensome public hearings. The pre-reform TSCA allowed any person to request a hearing on any rule. These hearings allowed for witnesses, cross-examinations, oral presentations, and other onerous, unnecessary hearing procedures to resolve material issues. This feature of the statute created a powerful opportunity for critics to slow down the rulemaking process, and it duplicated many other aspects of the law that already provided ample opportunity for the public to comment and provide feedback. Not surprisingly, this requirement was thoroughly rejected and excised from the new, reformed TSCA.

Nevertheless, the Regulatory Accountability Act would reinstate this failed requirement and apply it broadly to the development of all government safeguards. Under the bill, any person would be able to request a hearing on any major or high-impact rule, except in certain narrow circumstances. EPA would have to hold a hearing if any factual issue was in dispute—which is virtually always the case for someone. With this approach, attorneys would argue over science-based determinations made by agency scientists in needless show trials. Any individual seeking to delay a rulemaking could use this provision to draw out and delay protections for Americans.

The Regulatory Accountability Act may sound innocuous, but it puts our health, safety, and environment at risk. Imagine a world where efforts to update food safety requirements in the face of a pressing health threat were stymied. Or attempts to establish new protections after a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were thwarted. Or efforts to protect the public from asbestos were derailed.

This is the world that the Regulatory Accountability Act would create, across all areas of government. This blandly titled bill is deeply flawed and deeply problematic—a sneak attack on essential protections.

This post originally appeared  on Reg Blog.

Also posted in Policy| Comments are closed

Putting profits over our children’s health

By Sarah Vogel

The same week President Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at undermining crucial climate and health protections, the House Science Committee held a hearing that had no purpose other than to flaunt the latest in industry funded pseudo-science on climate change. This committee has a track record of lacking scientific rigor, and with the Chairman literally questioning whether Science Magazine or the industry-funded Heartland Institute was more reliable as a source, this hearing was no different.

These events are part of a long term, unrelenting effort on the part of well-funded, entrenched fossil fuel interests to fight climate safeguards at every turn, prioritizing polluter profits above the health of the American people. Make no mistake; there are serious human health consequences to ignoring the facts on climate change, including more asthma attacks, the expansion in disease migration, heatstroke, and increased mortality.

How in the world—after decades of research and overwhelming scientific evidence—could these peddlers of pollution have such a prominent voice in this Congress and Administration? Simple: they’re selling a surprisingly effective product: doubt. Selling doubt has been used for decades to keep deadly products on the market.

We’ve seen this game before.

The tobacco lobby denied smoking caused lung cancer for decades

By the 1950s, the strong link between smoking and lung cancer had become increasingly well identify in the scientific literature. Additional research and growing pressure from prominent health associations led to the 1964 declaration by the Surgeon General that smoking causes lung cancer and presents significant health risks, including emphysema and heart disease.

The tobacco industry knew better than anyone the state of the science. And for nearly fifty years, the industry skillfully seeded and manufactured scientific doubt and effectively spread propaganda to delay and slow a global public health response to a deadly and addictive—not to mention highly lucrative— killer. In 1994, the chairman of a major tobacco company, came before the U.S. House of Representatives and still declared that he did not believe that nicotine was addictive. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that smoking bans in public and private spaces in the U.S. finally took hold, however tobacco use continues to be a global health epidemic.

How have tobacco companies succeeded in expanding the market for this deadly product when the science has been so clear for so long? The strategy was succinctly captured in a 1969 memo by a tobacco executive: “doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” (See Merchants of Doubt for more on the connections between the tobacco and climate doubters.)

The lead industry fought against the link between lead and childhood poisoning for a good sixty years

When the story of lead in Flint’s water supply finally gained national attention, Americans were dismayed, and knew there was a problem. This is because the public trusts the best science including that being done by the Centers for Disease Control which called lead poisoning “the most common and societally devastating environmental disease of young children in the United States,” and declares that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood.

This, however, was not always the case. Lead was once commonly added to gasoline and paint and used in the pipes that deliver water to homes. Lead poisoning in children was a national issue by the 1940s and 1950s, and yet lead-based paint continued to be used to cover the walls of most American homes and was aggressively marketed to families through the late 1970s. Lead-based paint continues to be the primary source of children’s exposure to this chemical. Major policies to limit the use of lead in paint, gasoline, and food cans were enacted in the late 1970s, and we’ve seen levels in children’s blood decline ever since (see EDF’s interactive graph of the impacts of lead policies on lead exposure in children.)

Despite decades and decades of clear and ample scientific evidence of lead’s toxicity, this industry expanded its market in the U.S. and globally. Using similar tactics of manufacturing scientific doubt, lobbying, and propaganda, the industry stayed focused on protecting its profits and in the process robbed millions of children of healthy and prosperous lives.

We won’t be fooled

You wouldn’t know it from looking at Washington these days, but not only is the House Science Committee vastly out touch with science – which now clearly indicates that human are causing climate change– they are also at odds with the American people who overwhelmingly say climate change is happening.

They are also working against the tide of the American economy; there are now over 3 million Americans working in clean energy, well past the number employed in coal, with many of these jobs in Republican districts. Over 1,000 top businesses have also committed to staying on a low-carbon path, stating that addressing climate change is good business.

Some polluters and their well-paid lawyers (including firms that literally worked on the tobacco fight) continue to manufacturer doubt and pedal in climate denial propaganda, and the House Committee gave them a prominent platform to do so last week. Such boldfaced efforts to put profits over our children’s health—as was done with tobacco and lead—must be confronted by the truth. To call out these lies, to demand integrity and truth in the face of deceit, is what we all must do.

Please help us fight back>>

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science| Read 2 Responses

Four Important EPA Programs Threatened by President Trump’s “Skinny Budget”

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) critical mission to protect health and the environment is strongly supported by the public, which is why it is incredibly alarming to see that President’s Trump’s new “skinny budget” would cut EPA’s funding by 31 percent.

Half of EPA’s budget goes to states, tribes, local agencies, and non-profits, which help carry out EPA’s lifesaving mission and provide significant benefits to communities in the process. EPA also provides essential technical guidance, assistance, scientific research, coordination, and more to help states and others protect health and the environment. Budget cuts to EPA would jeopardize Americans’ health and the safety of their communities.

In addition to the vital programs that protect our air and water, these are a few examples of programs that EPA oversees – and that are now at risk.

Cleaning Up Pollution from School Buses

School buses take 25 million American children to and from school every day. Many of these buses are old and their exhaust includes harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and toxics.

Children are particularly vulnerable to pollution given their faster breathing rates and developing respiratory systems. Exposure to this pollution can aggravate asthma and cause other health problems.

Newer diesel engines are 90 percent cleaner than the old ones, however. So EPA administers a program for school districts to help them fix the problem. School districts can apply for rebates to replace or retrofit older buses under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) – a broadly bi-partisan program enacted by Congress. More than 500 school districts applied for this program in 2016 and 88 school bus fleets from 27 states were selected. More than 400 older diesel buses will be retrofitted or replaced thanks to DERA.

The 2016 grant recipients include:

  • Marana Unified School District #6 in Arizona, which received $465,000 to replace or retrofit 20 buses
  • Three school districts in Michigan (Haslett, Hudsonville, and Whittemore) that received $180,000 for nine buses
  • Three school districts in Pennsylvania (Carlisle, Glenmoore, and Philadelphia) that received $305,000 for 17 buses

The school bus program provides essential funding to school districts that need it. And we know that cleaning up buses is working – a recent study found that children in schools that had adopted cleaner fuels and technology were absent less and had improved lung function. Experts estimate that there are 250,000 older, dirtier school buses still in operation, indicating that we – and EPA – have much more work to do to protect children’s health.

(The school bus program is just one part of the DERA program to reduce diesel emissions. Find total DERA allocations to all states, from 2012-2016, here.)

Chesapeake Bay Program

The Chesapeake Bay ecosystem provides more than $100 billion in economic benefits each year to the region’s 18 million residents, yet has for years been threatened by air and water pollution.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, created in 1983, is a partnership of six states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia), the District of Columbia, the federal government, and numerous local governments and NGOs dedicated to restoring this iconic feature of the Mid-Atlantic.

EPA plays a vital coordination and technical advisory role for the Chesapeake Bay Program, setting goals and assisting local jurisdictions’ efforts to meet them. About two-thirds of the $70 million or so EPA dedicates to the Chesapeake Bay Program flows to state and local governments as grants.

Successful — yet ongoing — cleanup efforts include:

  • Between 1985 and 2015, the Chesapeake Bay Program has reduced harmful nitrogen water pollution by 30 percent, phosphorus by 40 percent, and sediment by 25 percent.
  • The outlook for fish and blue crab habitats, as well as key wetlands and underwater grasses, is also improving.
  • A new agreement signed in 2014 launched a more robust, accelerated restoration pathway that is still being implemented and just starting to show signs of progress.

Budget cuts to the Chesapeake Bay Program would jeopardize these encouraging trends.

Cleaning up Brownfields and Toxic Sites

Brownfields – properties contaminated by a hazardous substance – present a significant challenge to communities.

There are almost half a million Brownfields sites across the country. EPA provides technical assistance and administers several grant programs for states, local governments, and tribes to clean these sites up, conduct assessments, do job training, develop plans for use of the properties, and more.

These projects not only protect a community’s health and citizens, they also provide valuable economic and societal benefits by bolstering redevelopment efforts in existing communities —turning abandoned properties and eyesores into engines for job creation and economic growth.

In fiscal year 2016, projects created $16.11 per EPA dollar expended. Brownfields projects have overall created more than 117,000 jobs nationwide and have been found to increase residential property values near a Brownfields site by as much as 15.2 percent when a cleanup is completed.

A few projects funded or completed include:

  • $600,000 awarded for cleanup of a former tannery in Berwick, Maine. The vacant property was used for 100 years for leather tanning, woolen milling, and shoe and carriage manufacturing. Contaminants include VOCs, PAHs, and metals in soil and groundwater.
  • In Shelby, Montana, a largely abandoned historic school building was assessed for environmental issues, and asbestos and lead were cleaned up as part of a $200,000 EPA grant. The school was turned into a community center and was estimated to create 15 permanent jobs.
  • With $250,000 in EPA grant funding, the town of Fletcher, North Carolina turned a former log home manufacturing facility into a town hall. The project included clean-up of dioxin (a chemical that can cause reproductive and developmental problems and cancer) and pentachlorophenol (a chemical associated with cancer and other harmful impacts to human health).

According to EPA and U.S. Census data, approximately 104 million people (one-third of the U.S. population) live within three miles of a Brownfields site that received EPA funding, including more than one-third of all children under the age of five.

Reducing Lead

Thanks to the EPA's decades-long effort to address the threat of lead pollution, blood lead levels across the country have declined more than 90 percent since the mid-1970s (see this interactive EDF graphic to learn more about the policies that helped). These efforts have protected countless children from the lifelong burden of diminished IQ from early childhood lead exposure.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least four million households have children living in them who are still being exposed to high levels of lead —highlighting the need for continued EPA efforts and funding in this area.

Over the past five decades, EPA has worked to reduce or eliminate the use of lead in gasoline, paint, plumbing pipes, and soil. EPA provides lead reduction grants to states, territories, and tribes to help them implement programs to mitigate lead-based paint in homes. EPA also conducts extensive outreach to educate the public about the health risks of lead exposure, and manages a national certification program for contractors who work on homes containing lead. Last year, EPA took more than 100 enforcement actions to require property managers and contractors to protect vulnerable communities from the dangers of lead.

A few examples of funded EPA programs include:

  • $243,007 awarded to the Arkansas Department of Health to administer and enforce the state's lead based paint program, which will support training for lead inspectors and lead enforcement activities, and will help protect children from lead poisoning.
  • One of EPA’s regional offices (representing Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and 66 tribes) provided $898,384 in grants for work on lead abatement programs,  which include providing training for lead inspectors, conducting outreach, conducting inspections of contractors engaged in lead-based paint abatement activities, and enforcement action.
  • The Ohio Department of Health was awarded more than $55,000 to develop and refine its state lead licensing program and almost $375,000 to administer its lead accreditation and certification program in FY 2016.

These programs are just a small snapshot of the lifesaving programs EPA implements to protect public health. Programs like these could be completely eliminated or severely cut if the “skinny budget” is adopted by Congress.

Also posted in News, Policy| Read 1 Response

America’s Leaders Weigh in on the Dangers of Proposed EPA Budget Cuts

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Details of President Trump’s budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have started leaking out — and they are alarming, to say the least.

The reported budget cuts outline a disturbingly stark vision for the nation’s guardians of human health and the environment, cutting EPA staff by one-fifth and resources by 25 percent.

This budget would reportedly slash funding to restore the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, for state air quality grants, for environmental justice programs, for safe drinking water grants to states, and much more.

It would also reportedly gut EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the office responsible for guiding the agency’s approach to science. The Office of Research and Development includes vital work like the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program.

This short-sighted budget proposal would mean dirtier air and water. It would mean more deaths among American citizens, and more asthma attacks among American children.

That’s why reports of a budget proposal this alarming has drawn criticism from all corners of America, from red and blue states alike.

As Jim Brainard, the Republican Mayor of Carmel, Indiana put it:

I haven't met a Republican or Democrat yet that wants to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air.

Members of Congress from both parties, former EPA administrators serving under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, experts from state and local air agencies, environmental justice groups, and others all agree:

William Ruckelshaus, EPA Administrator for Presidents Nixon and Reagan:

A strong and credible regulatory regime is essential to the smooth functioning of our economy… Budget cuts that hurt programs that states now have in place to meet those duties run the risk of returning us to a time when some states offered industries a free lunch, creating havens for polluters. This could leave states with strong environmental programs supported by the public at a competitive disadvantage compared to states with weak programs. In other words, it could lead to a race to the bottom.

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator for President George W. Bush:

I haven’t ever really seen anything quite like this,” and on the enforcement of environmental rules, “a lot of that enforcement is protecting people.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator for President Obama:

This budget is a fantasy if the administration believes it will preserve EPA’s mission to protect public health… It ignores the need to invest in science and to implement the law… It ignores the lessons of history that led to EPA’s creation 46 years ago. And it ignores the American people calling for its continued support … This is actually going to be devastating for the agency’s ability to protect public health.

WE ACT for Environmental Justice:

Trump's proposed cuts to EPA's programs are racist and an attack on EJ communities nationwide.

Dominique Browning, founder of Moms Clean Air Force:

No mom — whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent — voted for air pollution. No mom voted for anything that would endanger her children’s health. We’ve come a long way in cleaning up air pollution, and cutting back EPA’s efforts to enforce the rules that protect us — in favor of polluters’ profits — runs completely against what mothers and fathers across the country want: safe and clean air.

National Association of Clean Air Agencies director Bill Becker:

These cuts, if enacted by Congress, will rip the heart and soul out of the national air pollution control program and jeopardize the health and welfare of tens of millions of people around the country… I can guarantee with certainty that at least in the air pollution area, there will be many more people who will die prematurely and tens of thousands, perhaps millions more, who will get sick unnecessarily… [the cuts will have] a direct and serious adverse health impact on almost every major metropolitan area in the country.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho):

There’s not that much in the EPA, for crying out loud. (Simpson also noted that Republicans had already reduced EPA’s budget significantly in recent years.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma):

EPA has been cut by over 20 percent in the last few years. The discretionary budget has been lowered pretty dramatically compared to how it was in 2009, and it’s under what [Speaker] Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) thought it would be in his budget.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware):

Reckless cuts to the EPA — the agency responsible for protecting public health and our environment — are not what Americans voted for in November.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio):

[W]e’re not going to let that happen, we’re going to continue to oppose cuts to the [Great Lakes Restoration Initiative] and we’re going to mobilize our voting forces to let them know that this isn’t going to stand.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI):

[Proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are] outrageous … this initiative has been critical to cleaning up our Great Lakes and waterways, restoring fish and wildlife habitats, and fighting invasive species, like Asian carp… I call on President Trump to reverse course on these harmful decisions.

John Stine, Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency:

It would cut across every area of our work… It would hurt the people who look to [our] programs for protecting the quality of their health and the quality of the places they live… We need people to understand that this work is not just … abstract, these are all people and places that are at some level of risk.

American Lung Association:

Slashing funding for programs that are proven to save lives is a disastrous strategy; cuts to key lung health programs at EPA and HHS make Americans less secure and less protected from known health threats such as the next influenza pandemic and air pollution. Our nation's scientists and doctors will be less likely to find cures and better treatments for the millions of Americans with lung cancer, COPD and asthma.

Clean air, water, and other environmental safeguards are essential to Americans’ lives. The vast majority of Americans across the country support EPA’s mission – a mission the agency has been carrying out under both political parties for almost half a century, and one that that has led to incredible progress in cleaning and protecting our air and waters.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Partners for Change, Policy, What Others are Saying| Comments are closed

In Early Action, EPA Administrator Pruitt Moves to Block Communities’ Right to Know about Oil and Gas Pollution

Last Thursday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew the agency’s Information Collection Request (“ICR”) for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector, abruptly halting the gathering of information on harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution from these industrial sources.

In announcing the move, Administrator Pruitt hailed the benefits for the oil and gas industry, but notably ignored the interests of everyday Americans right to know about harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities.

Pruitt’s action also stops EPA from obtaining information that can inform future safeguards against this pollution. Even though cost-effective, common-sense best practices and technologies exist to reduce emissions from oil and gas facilities, most existing facilities in this sector are largely exempt from any requirements to control the vast quantities of pollution they emit.

This flawed decision is at odds with the core tenets of the agency Administrator Pruitt is entrusted to lead and inimical to the health and environmental laws he has committed to faithfully execute. Unfortunately, it is also altogether predictable. Indeed this action—which allows oil and gas companies to withhold vital pollution data from thousands of sites across the country— reflects and reinforces concerns raised about Administrator Pruitt’s ability to lead an agency that he has persistently sought to undermine.

1. Pruitt Chooses Secrecy Over Transparency.

EPA has a long bipartisan history of providing data to the public about pollution in their communities. Indeed, during the Reagan Administration, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, which included provisions for EPA to create a publicly-available inventory of toxic chemicals down to the local level. Similarly, President George W. Bush signed a bill requiring EPA to collect and disseminate greenhouse gas emissions data from industrial sources across the country.

By withdrawing the ICR, Administrator Pruitt aims to shield the oil and gas sector from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, his penchant for secrecy with respect the oil and gas sector is familiar. During his controversial Senate confirmation process, Pruitt sought to withhold thousands of emails related to his ties to major energy interests who have donated to his political causes. While a number of those e-mails have been released, many more remain hidden from public view.

In the face of last week’s action by Administrator Pruitt, EDF has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all ICR data that has been submitted along with all records related to EPA’s decision to halt data collection.

2. Pruitt Places a Premium on the Views of Industry and Their Allies

In recent years, EPA has undertaken a careful, data-driven process to put in place protections to reduce pollution from the oil and gas sector. Often, EPA undertook such extensive data gathering to address industry concerns. The ICR was the latest data gathering effort, designed to ensure EPA had the full complement of information on existing oil and gas facilities. These existing facilities account for the vast majority of the sector’s pollution in coming years, yet remain largely exempt from any methane pollution control requirements.

To tailor its data request, EPA carried out two rounds of public comments, assessed significant stakeholder feedback, and substantially altered the request in response in order to leverage existing data and use electronic reporting frameworks.

In contrast to this careful and deliberative process, Administrator Pruitt withdrew the ICR with just one paragraph of explanation, just one day after receiving a request to do so from the Texas and Oklahoma Attorneys General and others.

Coincidentally, when Pruitt was Oklahoma Attorney General, he was aligned with the oil and gas industry in legal challenges seeking to undermine EPA’s oil and gas methane standards. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that he did not solicit input or wait to hear from any of the many other stakeholders involved in this process. Pruitt’s decision to withdraw the ICR may likewise raise conflicts of interest and should be closely scrutinized in light of his ethical obligations as administrator of EPA.

The Administrator has taken similar approaches in the past. As Oklahoma AG, for example, Pruitt simply copied and pasted industry requests and sent them to senior government officials under his own official seal.

EPA is legally required to protect the public from harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities. In carrying out that obligation, it is critical that public officials base decisions that affect our health and safety on careful review of the most rigorous scientific information available—and not simply accept, without any deliberation or inquiry, the recommendations of parties that have a vested interest in weakening health protections.

3. Pruitt’s Selective View of States Rights

As reason for withdrawing the ICR, Administrator Pruitt pointed to the request from the Texas Attorney General and the need to, in his words, “strengthen … our partnership with the states.”

But Pruitt’s notion of cooperative federalism bears no resemblance to the collaborative approach that EPA and states have taken to solving air pollution problems over the last four decades. Indeed, the Administrator seems comfortable with states’ rights when those states are seeking to hide emissions information and block clean air safeguards, but opposes states’ rights when they want stronger protections for their citizens.

For instance, large oil and gas producing states like Colorado and California have in place standards to reduce oil and gas sector emissions. Last Thursday, Ohio adopted stronger standards for certain sources. Eleven states – including major energy-producing states like New Mexico and California – have intervened in court to defend the same EPA emission standards for the oil and gas sector that the Texas Attorney General and his allies attacked in their letter. And many states have likewise supported EPA’s information collection request.

The Administrator’s decision ignores these views and undermines stronger state-level partnership. This is the very same disregard for state efforts to reduce pollution that Administrator Pruitt demonstrated when, during his confirmation hearing, he conveyed reservations about California’s longstanding authority to adopt vehicle emissions standards to address the state’s unique air pollution problems. And, over the weekend, additional reports surfaced suggesting that the Administration was planning attacks on California’s authority, which could be initiated as soon as this week.

This concept of states’ rights as a one-way justification to erode clean air protections is both dangerous and inconsistent with the Clean Air Act’s framework.

The underminer

During his confirmation hearing, Administrator Pruitt committed to carrying out EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment using rigorous data.  Unfortunately, with one of his first actions, he chose to undermine both.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed

Less Science, More Cost: Why the Misguided “Secret Science” Bill Is Bad Policy

shutterstock_3243574012It’s a good idea for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rely on the best, most up-to-date science in making its decisions.

Seems like a fairly basic point — but recent legislation aims to thwart EPA’s ability to do so.

Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Secret Science Reform Act” will reportedly be back again this year and soon be on the move.  The bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing an action unless “all scientific and technical information relied on to support” the action is “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

Like so many misleadingly-named bills of the past, this bill tries to sound like common sense – but in fact, it would do great damage to human health and the environment, as well as to a predictable regulatory environment for business.

A Blindfolded EPA

Here’s the first problem: to make informed decisions, some of the data EPA needs to use can’t be made public without doing damage to real people or to businesses.

Almost all of EPA’s work touches on issues of human health — relying, for example, on research that uses health records of asthma sufferers and their asthma attacks to see if they are associated with air pollution.

Data that involve private medical records of individual patients cannot – ethically or legally – be made fully public.

Here’s another example: businesses sometimes claim that information about their operations is legally protected from public release because it is “confidential business information.”

But under this legislation, EPA would be barred from relying on any study or any analysis unless they made all the underlying information publicly available.

What would be the real-world result for the safety of our air and water and the products we use?

Under this legislation, EPA decision-making would grind to a halt. For instance:

  • EPA would no longer be able to establish limits on emissions of hazardous air pollution into our air if a business claimed that any of the information EPA used to create the Clean Air Act protection was “confidential business information” that could not be released.
  • EPA could no longer issue national air quality standards that rely on studies about the health impacts of pollution if the studies relied in any part on confidential patient health data.
  • EPA could not make decisions about the safety of chemicals because such decisions would necessarily rely on information representing industry trade secrets.

EPA properly relies on peer-reviewed scientific research, and industry studies and data, to inform its efforts to protect public health and the environment. Particularly for health research, studies often involve confidential data that researchers are prohibited by law from disclosing. This legislation would force EPA to pretend that none of this valuable research exists when making substantial agency decisions.

The end result? Our health and environment is put at risk.

Congressional Budget Office Says It Will Cost Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Implement

Here’s a second problem: even setting aside the enormous confidentiality problems in this legislation, it would be extremely costly to implement.

The “Secret Science” bill authorizes just $1 million in expenditures per year. But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing this bill would cost approximately $1 billion to implement over the next four years — and that’s their middle estimate.

CBO estimates that EPA relies on about 50,000 scientific studies every year to accomplish its mission — so providing public online access to all of the underlying data and information is an expensive proposition.

Alternatively, if EPA presses ahead on the basis of a smaller number of studies, EPA protections would be less well-informed and may not reflect the latest science. They could also be inaccurate or incomplete — and thus more vulnerable to legal challenges that would delay the implementation of important public health protections or timely decisions affecting industry operations.

CBO’s own predicted result?

  • “CBO expects that EPA would modify its practices, at least to some extent, and would base its future work on fewer scientific studies, and especially those studies that have easily accessible or transparent data.”
  • “On balance — recognizing the significant uncertainty regarding EPA’s potential actions under the bill — CBO expects that the agency would probably cut the number of studies it relies on by about one-half … CBO estimates the incremental costs to the agency would be around $250 million a year initially, subject to appropriation of the necessary amounts. In our assessment that figure lies near the middle of a broad range of possible outcomes.”
  • “If EPA continued to rely on as many scientific studies as it has used in recent years, while increasing the collection and dissemination of all the technical information used in such studies as directed by H.R. 1030, then implementing the bill would cost at least several hundred million dollars a year.”

The challenges of meeting these huge expenses are enormous. They’re even more daunting in light of simultaneous efforts by EPA’s opponents in Congress to dramatically curtail the agency’s budget.

Bedrock Safeguards Subject to Delay and Uncertainty

Here’s a third problem: the bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing an action unless all information relied on is “publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” Yet for many key health studies, it could take years — decades even — to “reproduce” some key research.

Some of the most rigorous, crucial health studies are based on health data that is collected over many years — for example, studies that follow a group of people over time to understand how their health is affected by environmental conditions. Such data is how we recognized that smoking causes cancer, to cite just one example.

By their very nature, results from such “longitudinal studies,” which may involve thousands of people, cannot be readily and rapidly “reproduced” as a laboratory study on mice might be. Yet such studies, when carefully designed and executed, can be among the most powerful in shedding light on how pollution impacts our health.

The troublingly vague language in this bill could be interpreted to mean that research results can only be used if time has been allowed for reproduction of research results. This presents EPA with an array of bad options: incurring enormous delay and expense to reproduce even the most sound, rigorous studies, even when other research already supports their findings; moving ahead on the basis of limited science and ignoring crucial health insights from the latest research and from longitudinal studies; or moving ahead with the benefit of insights from these studies—but facing needless uncertainty and litigation risk due to the troublingly vague language in the bill. Whichever way, EPA’s ability to protect human health and the environment would be undermined.

Best Available Science

Why would anyone support this legislation that would force EPA to rely on less science at more cost to taxpayers?

Well, it would benefit big polluters who would be handed more ways to pick apart EPA safeguards in court — or stop their creation in the first place. But for the rest of America’s businesses, it could increase uncertainty and economic challenges, because EPA would be hindered in using the industry’s own information in making decisions. And for American families, who would be put at risk by less informed safeguards, the “Secret Science” bill is a bad idea for science and for public health.

It’s just plain wrong to suggest that EPA relies on “secret” data. EPA depends on the best, most up-to-date science – including university research and industry analyses that are available to the public, but that rely on confidential data and information properly protected from disclosure under the law and under common decency.

Update: The new version of the bill has been introduced, with very small changes, under a new title – the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act)

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