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.”


Up Next

Update: Joshua Tree Petition Granted For One Year While Officials Conduct Study

Update: Joshua Tree Petition Granted For One Year While Officials Conduct Study

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer On Tuesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to accept a petition that will grant the Joshua tree, the famous twisty-limbed yucca plant native to the Mojave desert, endangered species status for one year while the state conducts a study. The plant is now considered a “candidate species” […]

Continue Reading 658 words
Wildfire Smoke Increases COVID-19 Risk for Frontline Communities

Wildfire Smoke Increases COVID-19 Risk for Frontline Communities

by Razi Beresin-Scher and Miro Korenha According to recent reporting from The Hill, atmospheric smoke is exacerbating the toll of the COVID-19 virus in Oregon and California. Smoke inhalation weakens the immune systems of those suffering from asthma and other underlying respiratory conditions, compromising their ability to recover from the virus.  Researchers at the Harvard […]

Continue Reading 584 words
Study Estimates Number of AC Units Needed Will Triple in Next Thirty Years

Study Estimates Number of AC Units Needed Will Triple in Next Thirty Years

Increasing populations, incomes, urbanization, and temperatures could “triple the number of AC units installed worldwide by midcentury, pushing the total toward 6 billion,” as James Temple reported for the MIT Technology Review. This could create one of the “largest sources of rising electricity demand around the world.”

Why This Matters: This is the paradox of climate change. As the world warms, cooling will be even more necessary.

Continue Reading 528 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.