On May 30, 2018, KOTM Counsel Bill DePaulo filed comments, jointly with People Concerned About Chemical Safety, Inc., at the EPA in connection with proposed "transparency" rules that could fundamentally alter the implementation of clean air, clean water and other critical health and safety regulations. More than 130,000 comments were filed on this critical piece of regulatory governance.
The key to EPA's "transparency" proposal is the requirement to publish, at the time of a proposed rulemaking, the underlying scientific data supporting the proposal, so that other scientists can conduct analyses intended to test or "reproduce" the results. The problem with the proposed rule is that many historic health studies, including particulate matter studies that were the basis for much of the regulations implementing the Clear Air Act, were promulgated many years ago on the basis of private health data that cannot be published now under applicable privacy rules.
Intending to reassure the public, EPA stated that the proposed "transparency" rule, which requires publication of underlying data, would be prospective. In the same breath, EPA noted that there are mandatory requirements to revisit the earlier rules, on a firm deadline, to assess whether the science underlying them is sound. In short, the proposed "transparency" rule could be used, by persons intent on dismantling the EPA regulations, to undo the last half century of work to protect health and the environment. But then who would do that? Who indeed.
Although it is surely only a coincident, DePaulo pointed out in his comments that EPA's "transparency" rule was modeled on the ironically titled "Honest Act" proposed by retiring Texas congressman, the current chair of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith. Yes, the same Lamar Smith who famously has subpoenaed the underlying data regulations his supporters in the petroleum industry would like to see go away.
Chairman Smith's great claim to fame has been his general harassment of the governmental agency scientists who, applying traditional scientific processes, have consistently found things like concentration of particulate matter to be associated with increased pulmonary disease and early death. With EPA's proposed rule, even as he leaves Washington, DC, Chairman Smith can take pleasure in the vision of future generations.
DePaulo took the opportunity to point out to EPA that the "reproducibility" crisis was not the only data issue before the agency. Also of concern is the "producibility" crisis. Specifically, the current administration has withdrawn funding from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine for a study tentatively titled “Potential Human Health Effects of Surface Coal Mining Operations in Central Appalachia.” See NAS Press Release dated August 21, 2017 (Attachment G). See also, Trump administration halts study on coal mining's impact on health, August 21, 2017 The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com/business/news/trump-administration-halts-study-on-coal-mining-s-impact-on/article_bf9a6a04-ad9e-5fe2-a0cb-177c2c9cccca.html (last visited May 25, 2018). Why not produce the study, at a cost of less than $100,000, and subject it to peer review? Or is it so clear that the outcome would prejudice efforts to continue MTR that the Trump Administration simply can't allow the study to see the light of day?
And not to be outdone, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has denied PCACS's FOIA request for a copy of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia. Publication of the assessment was blocked after a January 30, 2018 email in which an unidentified White House employee stated: “The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge” and “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be,” See https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/14/emails-white-house-interfered-with-science-study-536950 (last visited May 16, 2018).
On May 22, 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services denied PCACS FOIA request for the ATSDR study on the grounds that:”ATSDR's Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances has not been approved for release to the public.” The obvious question is why the study is not ready? Is it because agency scientists are scrupulously running checks on the statistical bases for the conclusions in the study? Or is it because the release of the study would cause a predicable – and politically inconvenient – demand for enhanced regulatory response from an administration committed to the destruction of the EPA as an effective regulatory body?
As the National Enquirer -- a loud and proud supporter of the Trump Administration has stated -- "Thinking people want to know."
Attached below are KOTM and PCACS's comments filed with the EPA.