Trump’s Own Advisors Say Rule Rollbacks Buck Established Science

The Science Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a notice they buried with a New Year’s Eve publication, took issue with four significant rule rollbacks —  the Trump administration’s rewrite of an Obama’s definition of which waterways can be regulated, Obama’s clean car rule on tailpipe emissions, a proposal to weaken an Obama rule on toxic air pollutants including mercury, and a new regulation to limit scientific data that can be used to draft health regulations — saying that these rules “neglect established science” or contain “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis.”   According to The New York Times, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said, “that the agency ‘always appreciates and respects the work and advice’ of the scientific advisory board, while noting that Tuesday’s letters are drafts and could still be revised.”

Why This Matters:  If an advisory board composed mostly of the Trump Administration’s own hand-picked scientists, many of whom were known to be predisposed to favor industry views, can’t stand behind these rules, then they should not go forward.  Policy differences are one thing, but rules based on shoddy analysis and that ignore the widely-accepted scientific understanding of the issues is just, well, really dumb and likely motivated by political special interests rather than what is best for the public.  The American public, who foots the bill for both the government’s work and ultimately for the disastrous impacts of government incompetence and corruption, deserves better.   The only silver lining is that at least the scientists spoke up.

The Problems The Advisors Found With The Rules

Air Toxics Rule:  According to the Washington Post, this rule, “which would change the way the EPA calculates the benefits of curbing toxic air pollution, did not elicit a serious challenge from the outside experts.”  But they did take issue with the fact that the agency failed to include selenium and chromium among the rule’s toxic air pollutants.  And last month a group of former agency scientists criticized the proposed rule, saying “the EPA’s proposal relies on a cost-benefit analysis that is ‘fatally flawed’ and that the agency’s calculations ‘inappropriately fail to account for the fact that reducing mercury pollution provides tens of billions of dollars in health benefits to the American people.'”

WOTUS Rule:  This rule defines what water bodies, rivers, streams, and wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act and thus can be protected by the rule’s prohibition on emitting certain pollutants into them.  The Trump administration wanted to severely cut it back the Obama expansion of this list.  According to The Times, the Trump scientists stated that the new proposal “‘neglects established science’ by ‘failing to acknowledge watershed systems,’ the scientists said. They found ‘no scientific justification’ for excluding certain bodies of water from protection under the new regulations.”

Clean Car Rule:  The Trump scientists also found “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule” that would roll back vehicle emission standards that the Obama Administration had set to increase this year.   According to The Times, the agency used a flawed economic model that had not been adequately reviewed by federal agencies or in the academic literature, which led to what one expert described as “really improbable” results showing that relaxing Obama-era gas mileage standards would lead to a significantly smaller fleet of vehicles despite the model’s prediction that the vehicles would be cheaper.

Health Data: According to The Washington Post, the panel was highly critical of the administration’s rule to exclude any scientific studies from decision-making if the researchers withhold their raw data, saying that is “inconsistent with the scientific method that requires all credible data be used to understand an issue” and that “[s]uch a change could easily undercut the integrity of environmental laws, as it will allow systematic bias to be introduced with no easy remedy.”


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