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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Biden Administration must reimplement EPA’s ‘secret science’ rule

In the last weeks of his presidency, Trump’s Administration just barely recalled a decades long policy by the EPA despite outcry from the scientific community

As President Joe Biden attempts to turn a new leaf and focus on the future, the Trump Administration’s final decisions continue to cast a shadow over many of his choices. Even from Inauguration Day, most of the media focus has still been around Biden reversing Trump Era policies. Because of former President Donald Trump, Biden has a laundry list of things to do and chief among his priorities has been environmental justice. Keeping this in mind, the best thing he can do right now is reform the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and reimplement the supposed “Secret Science” rule that the Trump Administration barely was able to repeal weeks before they left office.

Getting rid of what the Trump Administration has dubbed the “Secret Science” rule would disallow the EPA from taking into account studies which don’t have their data available to the public. As usual, this isn’t a new idea. For decades, tobacco and fossil fuel companies have attempted to fight the EPA from establishing air quality standards by repealing this policy and branding it as a “lack of transparency.” 

So you might think, why does the data need to be secret in the first place? Privacy. Many studies on public health don’t release their data because it would break patient confidentiality, and this would generally disallow the EPA from using these studies. Basically, the EPA repealed a rule that allowed it to make informed decisions on public health during a global health crisis. 

Back in 2018, when repealing the rule was first proposed, the EPA’s own independent science advisory board questioned the motivations behind the rollback among the dozens of other environmental regulations repealed by the administration. Although the proposal may seem to make sense on the surface, forcing transparency and the release of data to the public for every decision, the fact that many of the officials on this board were actually appointed by Trump himself should speak for itself.

“Given the gravity of these concerns, which are echoed by a chorus of other scientific societies, health advocacy groups, universities, stakeholders, and member scientists of EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board, we urge the EPA to rescind this rule,” stated a letter that was sent to the EPA signed by dozens of health organizations and colleges, including Harvard University. “This proposal would diminish the critical role of scientific evidence in helping to make decisions that impact the health of Americans. Excluding the best available science, as this proposal would, puts public health at risk.”

Take it from me, there are plenty of things wrong with the EPA but this rule is not one of them. It should be immediately telling when dozens of nonpartisan science organizations and countless states and cities have already legally challenged the rule less than a month after its finalization. Among those involved in the lawsuit is Xavier Becerra, California’s own attorney general. Becerra, who founded the environmental justice branch of the state’s Department of Justice, has sued the Trump Administration 122 times since succeeding Vice President and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2017. He has consistently been a fierce advocate for the environment, among other social justice issues, especially in the face of the Trump Administration. 

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to reach new heights, the Trump Administration has plowed ahead with a devastating policy that forces the EPA to downplay or ignore robust, independent scientific research in favor of industry-backed propaganda,” remarked Becerra in an official statement. “We won’t let this one slide through the cracks. There’s too much at stake. We’re going to court today to uphold the rule of law and to protect the integrity of the science that informs our decision making.” 

The finalization of this rule marked the last of the many environmental regulations overturned by the Trump Administration. Fortunately, the Biden Administration has already signaled an intent to reimplement the policy as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this may take some time because this is not something that can be undone simply. It took the Trump EPA several years to get rid of it while taking every shortcut possible. Although it may take some time to undo this, I do think that it is important that the Biden Administration take the long bureaucratic road to fixing this.

Proper procedures and channels must be followed by the new administration to prove conclusively that they have science and facts on their side. I might believe that they do, but that doesn’t really mean anything until they can prove it to the general public. Trying to do things as quickly as possible sends the wrong message and it is up to Biden’s Administration to change things for good and do it the right way. 

Written by: Joe Sweeney — jmsweeney@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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