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US EPA to rework controversial science information plan

Proposal sought to have agency rely solely on publicly available data

by Cheryl Hogue
September 19, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 37


Photo of Andrew Wheeler at a lectern.
Credit: Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/Newscom
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke about "America's Environmental Leadership" at the White House on July 8.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is revamping its controversial plan to restrict the data it considers as it regulates, agency administrator Andrew Wheeler told a congressional panel on Sept. 19.

The EPA will propose a revised version of that plan early in 2020, Wheeler told the House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He did not provide details of the expected changes.

The original plan was proposed in April 2018 by then-administrator Scott Pruitt, who said it would strengthen transparency in science used for rulemaking. The proposal would prevent the agency from using data that aren’t available to the public. It would curtail the EPA’s use of many epidemiology studies of exposure to pollutants as well as of confidential business information provided by industry.

The EPA received hundreds of thousands of public comments on the plan, with industry, scientific groups, health and environmental advocates, and state regulators asking the agency to continue using at least some confidential information that isn’t disclosed to the public.

Given the volume of comments, the EPA has decided to rework the proposal, Wheeler told the committee.

In their written comment on the plan, the presidents of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine encouraged the EPA to seek expert advice to rework it. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) asked Wheeler if the agency had reached out to the National Academies for help. He said it had not.

In another line of questioning, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) asked Wheeler if the EPA had relied on nonpublic, confidential data from industry when the agency reversed its 2015 proposed ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children. Wheeler said he would find out and respond to Tonko in coming days.

Meanwhile, Reps. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) urged Wheeler to reconsider his agency’s August proposal to jettison requirements for oil and gas facilities to control emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Wheeler said the proposal would retain some of the current restrictions that apply to volatile organic compounds, which are precursors to ground-level ozone. Those constraints, he argued, would lead to curbs on methane releases as a side benefit.



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