War on Science: Trump admin’s Orwellian “Transparency in Science” (That BLOCKS most science)

  • Published on May 13th, 2020

Nothing’s ever really final, but next Monday is the last chance you’ll have to register your opposition to two and a half decades worth of tobacco and fossil fuel industry planning that has culminated in the Trump administration’s Orwellian-named Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule.

One House Bakery on science and disaster movies

By Climate Denier Roundup

We’ve touched on this long-running campaign recently, describing how it is core to the pseudo-intellectual DNA of both climate and COVID-19 denial as perfectly evidenced by Steve Milloy, and how its call for “sound science” sounds reasonable.

To mark the end of the comment period, Michael Halpern at UCS provides a helpful timeline of the campaign.

It began in the mid-’90s, with the tobacco industry’s lawyers (Steve Milloy and Chris Horner) pitching a plan to “construct explicit procedural hurdles” to prevent the EPA from using particular types of studies to inform regulations. Specifically, studies like the Harvard Six Cities paper that showed that PM2.5 air pollution, aka soot, is dangerous to public health. Since burning cigarettes and coal both produces soot, this study and others like it became a target for the fossil fuel and tobacco industries.

This initial attempt to forestall regulations failed, though, leaving the policy to gather dust through the 00’s. But by 2013, the fossil fuel industry resurrected the idea, and began pushing it through their congressional campaign recipients. Fortunately, it never gained much traction, and continued to flounder in Congress.

But in 2018, Trump’s first EPA administrator and friend of fossil fuels Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would take up this torch at the fossil fuel- and tobacco-funded Heritage Foundation, and instead of a formal press release, the EPA sent out an interview Pruitt did with the fossil fuel funded Daily Caller. Initial reporting on the event includes a quote from Steve Milloy, who was at the event and worked on Trump’s EPA transition team, saying it could come “sooner rather than later.”

Well, two years later and it’s finally wound its way through the regulatory process, so again we’ll remind you that the final comment period is soon ending.

But there’s still plenty of time for the administration to continue embarrassing itself in its attempts to make this polluter dream come true.

For example, last Friday Jean Chemnick at E&E reported that to defend the rule from legal challenge, Trump’s EPA is citing “an obscure ‘housekeeping statute’ enacted in 1874,” which “has roots in laws enacted under President Washington when early federal agencies were founded.”

Having to reach that far back is not exactly a good sign, but it gets worse. Chemnick explains: “it may not apply to the EPA, because the agency isn’t an executive department.”

The Trump administration of course disagrees, but even still, since the statute only applies to “internal matters” like “acquisitions and contracts,” it clearly was not intended to apply to a change like this, which would have huge consequences for how the EPA carries out its statutorily mandated duties to enforce the Clean Air Act and other rules.

On top of that, Maria Hegstad reported in InsideEPA, the rule will make researchers responsible for making sure their studies are compliant, which means this change applies to those outside the EPA, and therefore isn’t an internal housekeeping measure.

As if that’s not enough, it turns out that the Trump administration has invoked this authority elsewhere, and it has already been struck down. UCLA’s Sean Hecht told Chemnick that “the courts have looked at this before; it’s not a novel legal issue” which means that “for those of us who are skeptical of this use of the housekeeping statute, it’s actually good news.”

Because in these times, the Trump administration flailing to justify its attempts to enact a policy borne of the decades-old desire to protect polluters from regulations, and finding only a “housekeeping” statute from the 19th century that’s already failed to protect similar moves from being struck down in court, is what passes for good news.

(Crossposted with DailyKos. Photo by Michael Lauffer
@MacMAML on Twitter)

About the Author