Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014.
Photo by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times/Redux

On public health rules, Trump’s EPA seeks to limit scientific evidence

Since Donald Trump took office, the Republican’s Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly downplayed the role of science and evidence in the decision-making process, even on matters of public health. The New York Times reported overnight, however, on the administration’s plan to go quite a bit further.

The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.

A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions.

Andrew Wheeler, who worked as a coal lobbyist before Trump and Senate Republicans agreed to put him in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently told lawmakers his office’s efforts are all about promoting “the highest quality science.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. The other way is to consider the practical implications of what Trump’s EPA’s is up to. As the Timesreport explained, “The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.”

The American Lung Association’s Paul Billings told the newspaper, “This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths.”

Or as Emily Atkin put it, “The EPA’s new science policy means the agency will no longer be able to create public health regulations based on the scientific consensus that air pollution kills people. I know that sounds like it can’t be true, but it extremely is.”

I’m not sure if any of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination intend to make this a campaign issue in the coming months, but if not, it seems like a missed opportunity.

Air quality in the United States, after decades of improvement, started showing signs of deterioration not long after Trump became president. Now the president’s EPA, led by a former coal lobbyist, intends to limit the role of scientific evidence when shaping public-health rules.

The last time I checked, voters in battleground states and red states like to breathe, too.