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Aug. 1, 2018 by Wendy Wagner

A Real, Not Faux, Transparency Proposal for Regulatory Science

Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

In a previous essay, we critiqued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently proposed transparency rule, arguing that the proposal conflicts with best scientific practices and would further erode the EPA’s ability to do its job. According to supporters, the central goal of the proposed rule is to increase the transparency of regulatory science. Unfortunately, the proposal does not begin to deliver. No matter how many times the word “transparency” is repeated to characterize the proposal, its effects would reverse progress. It also gives appointees like former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his successors unrestricted and unreviewable authority to reach politically motivated decisions that exclude high quality research.

Of all the problems that plague EPA today, ensuring scientific transparency is not all that difficult. A real transparency proposal, as opposed to the Pruitt EPA’s faux proposal, would closely track the standards developed by the scientific community and include the following five features.

1. Rebuttable Presumption. A commitment to transparency must not compromise the agency’s ability to use the very best information possible.

The faux transparency proposal would exclude research — regardless of quality — if the “dose response …

June 19, 2018 by Rena Steinzor, Wendy Wagner
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt recently opened another front in his battle to redirect the agency away from its mission to protect human health and the environment. This time, he cobbled together a proposed rule that would drastically change how science is considered during the regulatory process.

Opposition soon mobilized. In addition to the traditional forces of public interest groups and other private-sector watchdogs, the editors of the most prominent scientific journals in the country raised the alarm and nearly 1,000 scientists signed a letter opposing the proposal.

This essay offers a contextual explanation of the reasons why scientists, who are typically loathe to enter the regulatory fray, are so alarmed.

In normal times, when agencies must evaluate the scientific evidence that informs a significant policy decision about health or environmental hazards …

March 18, 2014 by Wendy Wagner
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Basic disclosures of conflicts of interest have been required by the top science journals for decades. Yet most regulatory agencies – despite strong urging from a variety of bipartisan sources – have failed to require these disclosures for private research submitted to inform regulatory decisions. This omission is particularly alarming since, unlike journals, agencies used this research to determine the appropriate standards for protection of public health and welfare. If anything, one would expect the agencies to apply higher scientific standards and insist on greater transparency for privately submitted research as compared to journal editors.

The failure of agencies to meet these bare minimum standards of science has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the Administrative Conference of the U.S. recommended that agencies should, where possible, require these basic disclosures of conflicts, including “whether the experimenteror author had the legal right without approval of the sponsor of the research …

Dec. 30, 2013 by Wendy Wagner
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Some members of Congress apparently do not want agencies to regulate powerful agricultural and pharmaceutical interests in order to protect the public from dangerous risks. Yet, rather than say that — and be held accountable to the electorate for the consequences — they have developed what has become a standard, indeed almost boilerplate pretext to hide their endgame.

Specifically, they have drafted a provision snuck in as a rider to a farm bill that requires agencies to develop elaborate “high standards” for the use of science before they can regulate. Even more problematic than their obscurity is the fact that rather than deferring to the scientific community’s idea of what these high scientific standards should be, congressmen establish the rules of the game on their own. Given their politically-charged origins, it is thus not surprising that these congressionally developed rules are decidedly not in the public interest, nor …

Aug. 26, 2013 by Wendy Wagner
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In 2005, the City of Austin discovered that coal-tar based asphalt sealant was killing the highly endangered Barton Springs salamander. The sealant was leaching off freshly sealed parking lots and entering downstream pools where these fragile animals live. The surprise ending to the City’s detective work was not only that the sealant was gradually destroying its river system but also that other asphalt sealants were far safer. More specifically, when the City investigated the market, it learned that there were other sealants that were vastly less toxic, identically effective, sold at the same price, and in some cases were made by the same company. The EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission did nothing in response to this discovery, so the City of Austin passed an ordinance to ban the use of the highly toxic variant of asphalt sealant. Home Depot followed the City’s lead …

Dec. 17, 2010 by Wendy Wagner
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The Obama Administration’s newly released science policy memo is an important and largely positive development in the effort to protect science and scientists from politics. In particular, the policy takes aim at many of the abuses of science and scientists that defined the Bush era. It’s particularly encouraging, for example, that the policy calls on political appointees to take a hands-off approach to science.

That said, in several areas, the policy could have, and should have, gone farther. The tension between science and politics predates the Bush Administration, and systemic reforms are long overdue. The Obama Administration science policy memo was an opportunity to address these issues, but it focused instead on fixing problems primarily from the Bush Administration.

The memo, issued by John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), does not address the permissive approach many agencies …

June 28, 2010 by Wendy Wagner
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There is plenty of environmental despair right now . . . spreading oil in the Gulf, legislative inaction on climate change and a host of other issues, and the sense that for every step forward, there is a special interest that will take the nation two steps back. 

So, in this downward spiral of disappointments, is there any ray of hope? Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro hit upon one promising possibility in their important new book, The People's Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public: Special Interests, Government, and Threats to Health, Safety, and the Environment. After cataloging the sorry state of the regulatory institutions tasked with protecting health and the environment, the authors offer innovative suggestions for a set of positive metrics that not only help hold agencies publicly accountable, but also reward agencies for acting proactively. An added, invaluable attribute of these positive metrics is …

Feb. 8, 2010 by Wendy Wagner
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After laying dormant for decades, industries’ abuse of EPA’s permissive confidential business information program (CBI) is finally getting some serious attention. An investigation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and more recently articles in the Washington Post and Risk Policy Report; a report by the Environmental Working Group; and posts by Richard Denison at EDF, are turning the tide. Those of us at CPR who have spilled ink on various CBI problems over the years (i.e., Mary Lyndon, Tom McGarity, Sid Shapiro, Rena Steinzor, and myself) are thrilled to witness how these journalists and environmental watchdogs have finally managed to budge EPA on its contemptible program.

One document that has been referenced in several recent reports, but that I think deserves further attention, is an extensive empirical study of EPA’s CBI program by a consultant, Hampshire Associates. EPA commissioned this study in 1992 to evaluate …

Aug. 10, 2009 by Wendy Wagner
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On Wednesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Science for Policy Project released its report (press release, full report) on the use of science in regulation-making. I was on the panel and thus am a bit biased, but I think the report makes a terrific contribution. It significantly narrows the range of positions that can be credibly debated about the appropriate level of oversight needed to ensure the quality of regulatory science. At the same time, it introduces some important new ideas for improving science-policy, like creating incentives for scientists to provide stronger peer review. In the process of finalizing the report, we all had to make some concessions. Rather than feeling that the resulting recommendations were of the lowest-common-denominator type, however, I believe the entire panel felt that the report contains a lot of specific details that, if implemented, would be dramatic improvements on the status quo …

Aug. 23, 2008 by Wendy Wagner
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As the moderator of this blog, I am the designated devil’s advocate. Read together, Rena’s and John’s entries make my assignment easy. Both write upbeat and insightful entries about their preferred approaches for the future, but they reach diametrically opposite conclusions. John suggests that the best solution for the manipulation of regulatory science is to base environmental policy on as little science as possible (or at least to be more self-conscious about whether we really need science to make environmental policy). Rena, by contrast, argues cheerfully that the answer lies in the scientific community. “You have only to look at” the work of a respected EPA Science Advisory Board – the CASAC (Clean Air Science Advisory Committee)” to see how the problems with regulatory science are being solved. “Scientists,” she concludes, “must simply step up to the challenge.”

 

So – at the big picture level -- who …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Aug. 1, 2018

A Real, Not Faux, Transparency Proposal for Regulatory Science

June 19, 2018

Deconstructing Regulatory Science

March 18, 2014

Conflict Disclosures for Regulatory Science: Slow but Steady Progress at Last

Dec. 30, 2013

Roll Call: The good science scam and an undemocratic provision

Aug. 26, 2013

Competitive Chemical Regulation: A Greener Alternative

Dec. 17, 2010

The White House's New Science Integrity Policy: A First Assessment

June 28, 2010

Steinzor-Shapiro Metrics on Display in EPA's June 2010 Strategic Plan