Accuracy in Media

It would seem like the kind of policy proposal that would please those interested in seeing a clean environment – a regulation that forbids the Environmental Protection Agency to base rules only on data that can be recreated and verified independently.

But because not forcing researchers to disclose their data has led to big victories for the left in the environmental wars, “scientists and physicians … say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking,” wrote the New York Times on Tuesday.

“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,” wrote Lisa Friedman of the Times under “EPA to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Laws.”

The Times does not say why new clean air and water rules were needed or what problems they would need to address.

The proposal does not seek to limit science, of course. What the EPA is trying to do is to ensure it can replicate and verify the studies on which it bases policy. Officials “called the plan a step toward transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently,” Friedman wrote.  

At issue is the Six-Cities Study undertaken by Harvard and other institutions in the early 1990s. The study used medical data and occupational histories from 22,000 people in six cities. It concluded fine particulate matter – tiny particles released from sources such as coal-fired power plants – contributed to illness and early death for the people in affected communities.

Its findings helped the environmentalists prevail in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court case that gave the EPA the power to regulate particulate matter in the course of enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

“But the fossil fuel industry and some Republican lawmakers have long criticized the analysis and a similar study by the American Cancer Society, saying the underlying data sets of both were never made public, preventing independent analysis of the conclusions.”

Friedman said this proposal, which called for additional transparency, was “part of a broader administration effort to weaken the scientific underpinnings of policymaking.”

But this is worse, she said, because “in this case, the administration is taking aim at public health studies conducted outside the government that could justify tightening regulations on smog in the air, mercury in water, lead in paint and other potential threats to human health.”

The Six-Cities Study was undertaken, in part, with federal funding, which means it was not conducted “outside of government” and that government should have the right to the underlying data, say conservatives who work in the environmental movement.

The Times story includes quotes condemning the proposed rule from a variety of sources but presents only one in favor. “Industry groups said the rule would ensure greater public understanding of the science behind regulations that cost consumers money,” it wrote to introduce a quote from the American Chemistry Council.

Despite the overwhelming outpouring of negative comments from groups such as the far-left Union of Concerned Scientists, the Times wrote, the newest version “does not appear to have taken any of the opposition into consideration.”

It then got to the point. “Beyond retroactivity [the new rule would be retroactive, unlike a proposal advanced earlier under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt], the latest version stipulates that all data and models used in studies under consideration at the EPA would have to be made available to the agency so it can reanalyze research itself,” Freidman wrote. “The politically appointed agency administrator would have wide-ranging discretion over which studies to accept or reject.”

It did not mention that this wide-ranging discretion over which studies to accept or reject already exists and led to the current situation.  

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