How TSCA implementation could be derailed by Pruitt’s planned directive forcing EPA to ignore science

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Several of us at EDF listened in last Friday to a webinar hosted by a committee of the American Bar Association that featured Dr. Nancy Beck, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that administers the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Dr. Beck was asked during the Q&A whether EPA was actively working on drafting risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals TSCA required EPA to identify, even though their long-awaited “problem formulations” have not yet been made available to the public for comment.  Dr. Beck replied that, indeed, the agency was hard at work on the risk evaluations, noting that there are “thousands of studies” agency staff have identified relevant to those 10 chemicals that need to be reviewed.

What struck me about that comment, which in and of itself is not at all surprising, is that it was made just a week after news broke that Dr. Beck’s boss, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, plans to direct agency staff to reject large numbers of scientific studies from consideration in policy making at the agency.  

Pruitt’s planned directive is based on a bill disingenuously called the HONEST Act (formerly called the Secret Science Act) that was introduced by Republicans on the House Science Committee in various forms in the last several Congresses but was never passed.  Reports indicate Pruitt intends to impose the draconian requirements of that bill by simple fiat.  Pruitt’s directive would likely bar EPA from using any study that either does not meet a narrow definition of “reproducible” or for which all underlying data, down to even the computer codes of any models used, is not made public.

While the bill and Pruitt’s planned directive wrap themselves in the mantle of transparency, their real purpose is to cripple EPA’s ability to use the best science to inform its decisions.  Don’t take my word for it; see what former senior officials at EPA and other agencies (here and here)  have to say about the devastating effects it would have on EPA science.

Faced with these mandates, EPA staff would have two choices:  Spend what the Congressional Budget Office estimated would be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars annually just to seek to gain access to and make public all data underlying studies EPA wants to use; or simply reject the studies and pretend like they don’t exist, no matter how relevant to the decision at hand.

Dr. Beck made no mention of Pruitt’s plans on last Friday’s webinar, although the story was already public.  She should be familiar with how significant an impact the act would have because her employer immediately preceding her arrival at EPA last April – the American Chemistry Council (ACC) – is a big fan of the HONEST Act, having heartily endorsed it on numerous occasions over the last several years.

All this leaves one asking just how Dr. Beck plans to square this circle:   Acknowledging there are thousands of relevant studies to be included in the risk evaluations TSCA charged EPA with conducting, in the face of a directive that would effectively force EPA to reject many or even most of them outright, no matter their quality.  And how does that square with the law’s mandate that EPA consider all “reasonably available information” and ensure its decisions reflect the “best available science”?

We don’t think this is a circle that can be squared.


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