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US EPA chief narrows advisers’ focus to one part of controversial plan to limit data used for regulation

Guidance sought on protecting confidential business information and personal data

by Cheryl Hogue
June 6, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 23


Experts on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) want to provide detailed feedback on the EPA’s sweeping proposal to restrict the scientific data it considers when crafting regulations. But EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler made it clear June 5 that he wants the SAB to give advice primarily on a single provision in that plan.

Scientists from industry, state governments, and lobbying groups that serve on the SAB asked the agency in 2018 not to finalize the plan containing “a myriad of scientific issues” until after they reviewed it. The proposal would force the EPA to use only publicly available data as the basis for regulations such as water pollution limits and controls on commercial chemicals. Many science groups say the plan could lead the EPA to ignore valid scientific evidence.

Speaking in person to the SAB in Washington, DC, Wheeler rejected the board’s request because the review could take months. He asked the board to focus specifically on how the agency can protect confidential business and personally identifying information while providing public access to these data.

Wheeler wants the SAB’s advice on this issue by the end of the summer. He did not rule out individual feedback from SAB members on other provisions in the proposal, which EPA intends to finalize by the end of 2019.

The EPA chief told the SAB that the agency is transitioning to a new practice for getting scientific and technical advice from its science advisers more quickly. “It’s no secret the process was broken,” Wheeler said. For instance, reviews of thorny scientific issues have delayed completion of chemical hazard assessments for the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System, he said.



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