Monday, October 18, 2021

Judge blocks Trump rule to limit health studies in EPA regs

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal judge has blocked a last-minute rule issued by the Trump administration to limit the evidence the Environmental Protection Agency can consider when regulating pollutants to protect public health.

Former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Jan.6 rule was meant to end what he and other Republicans call “secret science.” Some industry and conservative groups have long pushed for change, saying that public health studies hold confidential and potentially identifiable data on test subjects should be made public so that the underlying data can be examined before the EPA does not publish rules designed to protect public health.

Wheeler called the rule an attempt to increase transparency in government decision-making, but critics said it was hastily imposed and would threaten patient confidentiality and the privacy of individuals in public health studies. that underpin federal regulations.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ruled Wednesday night that the EPA illegally rushed the settlement, saying its decision to make it final just two weeks before President Donald Trump left was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” Morris delayed the rule at least until February 5, giving Biden’s new administration time to assess whether to move forward or make changes.

An EPA spokesperson said on Friday the agency was “committed to making evidence-based decisions and developing policies and programs guided by the best science.”

The EPA will “follow the science and the law in accordance with executive orders and other directives of the Biden-Harris administration in reviewing all agency actions issued under the previous administration,” including the so-called transparency rule in basic science, spokesman Ken Labbe said in a statement.

Wheeler defended the rule, which was finalized in early January after years of debate.

“If the American people are to be regulated by the interpretation of these scientific studies, they deserve to examine the data as part of the scientific process and American self-government,” he wrote in an editorial in 4 January in the Wall Street Journal. . “Transparency is a defense, not an attack on, the important work being done by career scientists at the EPA, with their colleagues at research institutes across the country.”

But the change was so broadly drafted that it could not only limit future public health protections, but also “force the agency to revoke decades of clean air protection,” said Chris Zarba, former head of the government. EPA Scientific Advisory Board.

He and other critics have said the rule compromises the use of public health studies, such as the Six Cities study of the 1990s at Harvard, which relied on anonymized and confidential health data from thousands of people. people to better link air pollution to higher mortality. Studies have helped shape health and environmental rules for decades. The Six Cities study led to new limits on air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Ben Levitan, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, who challenged the Trump rule in court, said the purpose of the rule was not to promote transparency, as Wheeler and other officials have argued.

“Its purpose and effect is to disregard and downgrade the damage caused by pollutants and toxic substances, and thus deprive the public of the necessary protection based on these studies,” Levitan said Friday.

The Trump rule would limit regulators’ consideration of the results of public health studies unless the underlying data that arises from them is made public. The rule deals with what is called the dose-response …

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