(de)regulation nation, vol. 1 no. 2: Science is under siege at the Environmental Protection Agency

March 27, 2018 — Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter devoted to keeping up with the Trump administration’s attacks on clean air, clean water, and other environmental and public health protections—along with who’s fighting back and what’s going right.

Since publishing last week's newsletter, I've discovered that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like to hear the bad news first, and those who like to hear the good news first.

I for one like the bad news first, with the good news after to cushion the blow. But this newsletter is for you. So please click here to take a 60-second survey —  on whether you prefer bad or good news first ("no preference" is also an option, in case there are actually three kinds of people in the world), and which day of the week you'd prefer to see (de)regulation nation in your inbox.

On to highlights from the past week in Trump-era environmental and public health policies. Bad news first, good news follows:


bad

Scott Pruitt, Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator, announced last week that the agency will stop using so-called "secret science" to develop regulations that protect the environment and public health. 

  • Pruitt defines "secret" science mostly as human health studies using data that aren't available for public review; it also covers industry-funded studies that may include trade secrets about products or processes.
  • "We need to make sure their data and methodology are published as part of the record,” Pruitt told the conservative news outlet The Daily Callerlast week.  “Otherwise, it’s not transparent.”
  • His reference to "transparency" suggests Pruitt is championing the public's right to know. But this move is better understood as part of Pruitt's longtime advocacy (dating back to his days as Oklahoma's attorney general) for industry positions over public protections.
  • Why? Because typically, participants in public health studies allow the scientists to collect and analyze their personal health and medical information in return for confidentiality. These data cannot legally be made public, and Pruitt knows that.

Forcing the EPA to ignore such research, which includes landmark, multi-year, peer-reviewed studies that have propelled stronger clean air and clean water protections, could undercut established as well as future regulations coming out of the EPA. It could also set a dangerous precedent for separating the best available science from the work of other agencies.  

“This affects every aspect of environmental protection in the United States,” David Michaels, an Obama-era assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, told The New York Times, calling Pruitt's plan “weaponized transparency.”
Read more:
The New York Times
The Daily Caller
Bloomberg
Mother Jones

Want more bad news? Check out the Dereg Tracker, (de)regulation nation’s Twitter feed, for ongoing environmental and public health news out of the Trump administration.


better

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers ignored the White House's request (supported by Administrator Pruitt) to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's 2019 budget by 30 percent. The federal spending bill President Trump signed last week funds the EPA at its current level of $8.1 billion. 
Read more:
Environment & Energy News (may be paywalled)
The Hill


good

Among other things, the budget bill also included:

  •  $425 million for the federal Land, Water and Conservation Fund, a $25 million hike from last year.
  • Funding for four NASA Earth science missions, as well as the agency's education program.
  • A 16 percent increase, to $353 million, for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds early-stage research and development of promising clean energy technologies. 

What do these diverse programs have in common? They're among those the White House wanted to entirely eliminate. 
Read more:
Inside Climate News
Ars Technica
Space News
The New York Times
 

great

Cattle ranchers in Montana's Tom Miner Basin, which lies directly north of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, are trying to share the land with bears and wolves—even though these predators sometimes kill their livestock.

In one innovative program, range riders patrol the basin during the summer, when the herds are roaming freely, to check on the cattle. The riders' presence alone can discourage predators; and they also use low-stress herding techniques to bunch up scattered cattle (similar to how bison herds once moved across this landscape), which better protects the animals.

The best-available ecological science suggests that the West's mountain ecosystems need healthy populations of top predators like grizzly bears and wolves to remain in balance. The Trump administration's position on these species has so far been uneven:

  • Environmentalists have sued to block a 2017 decision by the Department of Interior to end endangered species protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
  • But last week Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he supports the return of grizzly bears to Washington state's North Cascades National Park, even though some area ranchers oppose it.

Read more: 
Ensia
Oregon Public Broadcasting

Photo: Scott Pruitt at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, in 2015, when he was attorney general of Oklahoma. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

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RegulationEmily Gertz