A proposed rule called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” and some bureaucratic reshuffling at the Environmental Protection Agency has the mainstream media accusing the Trump administration of a war on science.
First, to the Washington Post, the new rule does not strengthen transparency; it is “an effort to limit what kinds of scientific studies could be used to protect public health.”
It’s not about ensuring the science on which policy decisions are made can be reviewed and replicated by other scientists to ensure accuracy. It is “one of conservatives’ top priorities for years,” Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney wrote in “EPA excluded its own top science officials when it rewrote rules on using scientific studies.”
It refers to these rules as “restrictions” that “could alter how the agency protects Americans form toxic chemicals, air pollution, radiation and other health risks, adding to the agency’s broader deregulatory agenda.”
It then quotes Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a left-leaning advocacy organization that includes many non-scientists, saying, “It’s astounding that the EPA science adviser’s office was left completely out of the loop during the development of a major science policy proposal.”
The quote is misleading because the agency announced last week it planned to merge the Office of Science Advisor with the Office of Science Policy as part of a broad reorganization of the Office of Research and Development, which determines how the Environmental Protection Agency gathers and uses research.
The New York Times reported the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to dissolve the Office of the Science Advisor, but it did not mention it was being merged into another office.
“The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policymaking while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations,” wrote Coral Davenport of the Times in “EPA to Eliminate Office That Advises Agency Chief on Science.”
The story provided a link at this point to a piece Davenport wrote for the Times in June, entitled, “In the Trump Administration, Science is Unwelcome. So is Advice,” with a subhead that read: “As the president prepares for nuclear talks, he lacks a close adviser with nuclear expertise. It’s one example of a marginalization of science in shaping federal policy.”
The story, published two days ahead of the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Trump’s failure to name a science advisor – he as the first president since 1941 not to have one in place – could place the United States “at a tactical disadvantage in one of the weightiest diplomatic matters of his presidency.”
Davenport wrote that Trump “has proudly been guided by his instinct” and that the “lack of traditional scientific advisory leadership in the Trump administration” amounted to “the marginalization of science in shaping United States policy.”
The Washington Post story on the proposed transparency rule paints the Trump administration’s move for open science in dark terms and raises a decades-long argument about air pollution policy.
“One area that could be affected deals with air pollution regulations that limit levels of fine particulate matter that can enter the bloodstream and cause lung and heart problems,” the Post wrote. “The link between these particles and health risks comes from several studies, but one of the most important, Harvard University’s look at pollution in six cities, promised subjects that their extensive personal information would not be shared.”
The Six Cities Study followed people in two cities with serious problems with pollution from coal-fired plants, two with moderate problems and two with little problems and found stark differences in life expectancy among them. Its results have never been made public, and researchers have for years suspected this is because they do not support the conclusions.