The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding a public hearing on July 17 for its proposed “transparency” rule, which would severely limit the science that can be used to inform agency decision making.
In May, we filed a letter urging the EPA to allow more time for discussion on the impact of this rule. In response to the many requests like ours it received, the EPA extended the comment period and scheduled this lone hearing.
Augusta Wilson, one of our staff attorneys, will attend the hearing and speak in the afternoon about why the EPA must rely on the best available science.
Here’s what she’ll say during the five minutes allotted for her testimony:
Good afternoon. My name is Augusta Wilson, and I am here representing the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today and will file more detailed written comments in the online docket for this proposed rulemaking.
The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the scientific endeavor. In this capacity, we work closely with scientists at government agencies and at research institutions. So we have particular insight into how attempts to silence science negatively impact both researchers on an individual level and the conduct of scientific research as a whole.
There are numerous reasons why EPA should not proceed with this rule. In the limited time I have I will focus on a few of the most important from the perspective of protecting the integrity of the scientific endeavor.
First, studies that involve human subjects, particularly those investigating the human health impacts of exposure to environmental pollutants, are among the most relevant to EPA’s core mission. In order to conduct such studies, scientists need participants willing to allow researchers access to their confidential health information. If enacted as currently proposed, this rule would make it much more difficult for scientists to credibly promise study subjects that their patient information will remain confidential.
This could have a deeply concerning chilling effect on the conduct of important human health studies. Privacy concerns could influence what science gets done and what does not. Lines of scientific inquiry that would have been pursued may not be. The quality of data may be poorer than it otherwise would have been.
Furthermore, the justification for this rule, to the extent it exists, seems to be based on the false premise that scientific studies cannot be adequately evaluated or reproduced unless all of their underlying data are made public. This is simply not the case. On the contrary, reviewers can evaluate the merits of studies even when they rely on data that cannot be made publicly available. This is because part of a scientist’s fundamental training is the ability to assess research based on the strength of the experimental design, and the precision with which experimental methods and analysis are described. In addition, where necessary and appropriate, reviewers (as well as other researchers seeking to reproduce or extend scientific analysis) can have confidential access to key data in conformity with privacy requirements.
That said, the scientific community has certainly recognized that recent technological developments allow for significant improvements in data sharing and reproducibility, and that such improvements can benefit science. Numerous scientific societies, journals, and other organizations, as well as individual researchers, are actively engaged in dialogue about how to improve transparency while protecting scientists and taking into account issues like patient confidentiality and proprietary information. If EPA is genuinely concerned about these issues, it should engage deeply in this discussion and with the scientists who are having it, and should move forward only in concert with them.
As written, this rule — which EPA professes is intended to strengthen science — will ultimately do significant damage to it and to the United States’ ability to lead the world in research. EPA should not promulgate such a rule.