Why Won’t EPA Use Science When Crafting Policy? Tester Demands Answer from Agency Chief

Senator: “Montanans need an EPA that works to hold polluters responsible, not one that lets them off the hook”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is disregarding scientific studies in its policymaking, said U.S. Senator Jon Tester today following a report that the agency will be updating a rule to prevent the use of critical, scientific public health studies against the agency’s mission to keep air and water clean, and protect public safety.

A leaked draft of the EPA’s misleadingly titled rule, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, detailed that the agency will require scientists to disclose all raw data—including confidential medical records—before they can consider the results of their studies. The rule would prevent the use of many public health studies in policy development because they rely on health information that is collected under confidentiality agreements.

“Medical data is critical for establishing links between pollution and its impacts, and it’s important for determining how to clean up our air and water, and keep it clean.” Tester wrote to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Discounting health studies because researchers aimed to protect participant’s personal information would drastically limit the EPA’s ability to protect our communities’ safety and put our families at risk.”

Public health studies have been used to link pollution and disease for decades, most famously in the groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University “Six Cities” project which tied chronic air pollution to premature death. The rule would prevent the EPA from using these studies unless scientists aggressively redacted their data, which could cripple its usefulness, and may not be sufficient to protect participants’ identities.

The change would also apply retroactively to public health regulations that are currently in place, allowing the Administration to rollback or prevent the renewal of common-sense rules that have been protecting Americans from pollution for years. This rule adds to the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to undermine the use of commonly-accepted science in the creation of public policy, opening the doors for outside industry to influence policy.

“Widely-accepted, peer-reviewed studies that have long guided agency action could be thrown out because they do not meet new regulatory guidelines,” Tester continued. “…Making this proposal retroactive means that the EPA won’t just be failing to regulate on new threats to our health, it will be rolling back common-sense regulations based on science that was settled decades ago.”

Montana’s outdoor recreation industry contributes $7.1 billion to the state’s economy and supports 71,000 jobs, and ultimately relies on pristine air and water quality for fishing, hiking, and hunting.

Advocacy organizations across the state are joining Tester in his criticism of the rule:

More than sixty health organizations oppose EPA’s ongoing efforts to censor the science the agency uses to make policy decisions,” said Ronni Flannery, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association’s Healthy Air Campaign in Montana. “EPA’s latest proposal would deliberately blind the agency to the true health toll of air pollution. The result would be air pollution standards that do not adequately protect health, which would mean real harm to Montana families.”

“Moms Clean Air Force is strongly opposed to EPA’s efforts to force regulators to ignore peer-reviewed scientific research,” said Melissa Nootz, Montana Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. “But that’s exactly what Administrator Wheeler is trying to accomplish in limiting the science available to EPA officials when setting health-protective pollution standards. Protecting our children from pollution is a top priority of Moms Clean Air Force and thousands of Montana moms. Limiting the science that EPA can use to set health-protective standards is a deeply flawed strategy that will harm our kids.

Tester has been a champion for ensuring air and water in Montana is protected from outside interests that would pollute them. His landmark Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act was signed into law this spring, protecting public land and water north of Yellowstone from mining operations. In June, he introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act to protect thousands of acres of public land and water in the Blackfoot river watershed.

Read Tester’s full letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler HERE.