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Proposed New Rule Would Amp Up EPA War On Science

The EPA proposed to ignore any health studies that do not include the private data of the people studied. The rule will be retroactive.

When scientists conduct long term health studies — often called longitudinal studies — they track the medical history of hundreds or even thousands of people for up to 5 years. They may install testing equipment in their homes, ask them to fill out extensive questionnaires on a regular basis surveys, and take blood and tissue samples from time to time. In order to get people to cooperate in what is a rather invasive process, the scientists promise their personal data will be held in strict confidence.

pollution coal slurry pnd

Coal slurry pond in West Virginia. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

A new rule proposed by the EPA would upend decades of scientific research — studies that have confirmed that air pollution leads to shortened life spans or that mercury impairs brain function in young children — by requiring all that confidential data be made public. Ostensibly, the proposed rule is about “transparency.”

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, a hand-picked Koch Brothers stooge who used to be a lobbyist for the coal industry, told Congress in September, “We are committed to the highest quality science. Good science is science that can be replicated and independently validated, science that can hold up to scrutiny. That is why we’re moving forward to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders.”

That’s not the worst of it. The rule would apply retroactively to every health study ever done. So let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s say you participated in a study in the 90s. Suddenly, your name is out there. Reporters from InfoWars, Breitbart, and Fox News are at your front door demanding to know all about you, investigating your work history, court records, and credit reports for any hint that you are not Mother Teresa. Your Facebook and Twitter feeds explode with posts making you out to be a liar, a cheat, a fraud, a gold digger, or worse. If  you are divorced, all your intimate details will be subject to public scrutiny. Your boss decides all this attention is interfering with business and so you are terminated.

Once news gets out about what happens to people who participate in such studies, how many people will volunteer to be part of such research? That’s really the point, isn’t it? To totally shut down any studies that could lead to restrictions on what industries can put into the atmosphere, the soil, or the water? This is a full frontal assault on reason that appears rational on the surface but is just another way for the Kochs and ExxonMobil and all the other companies that fund extreme views against protecting the environment to get their way, stuffing money into their pockets all the while.

The proposed rule has gotten more then 600,000 public comments, the majority of them negative. Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, tells the New York Times, “This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths.” Those are words likely to put a smile on Andrew Wheeler’s face and that of his boss, the man who  has dedicated his presidency to making sure polluters get everything on their wish list. The man with the world’s worst combover refused to represent the people of America. Only those with bucket loads of cash get his attention.

The Times reports many public health experts are concerned that studies that have been used for decades to underpin environmental regulations for decades might be excluded from consideration going forward. Even worse, the regulations put into force based on those studies could be revoked. Some of those studies show that mercury from power plants impairs brain development or that lead in paint dust is connected to behavioral disorders in children. A groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University study of 22,000 people definitively linked polluted air to premature deaths and became the foundation of America’s air quality laws. Kiss those burdensome examples of government overreach goodbye!

The Trump maladministration 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,” according to the Times report.

In its comment on the proposed rule, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners said it was “deeply concerned” that the rule would lead to the exclusion of studies, “ultimately resulting in weaker environmental and health protections and greater risks to children’s health.” The National Center for Science Education said ruling out studies that do not use open data “would send a deeply misleading message, ignoring the thoughtful processes that scientists use to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered.” The Medical Library Association and the Association of Academic Health Science Libraries said the proposal “contradicts our core values.”

But the American Chemical Council, which we know has our best interests at heart, said, “Transparency, reproducibility and application of current scientific knowledge are paramount to providing the foundation required for sound regulations.” Translation: If this rule goes through, we can do anything we want and no one can stop us. Under the new policy, the politically appointed agency administrator would have wide-ranging discretion over which studies to accept or reject. America will be like the old Soviet Union where every agency had a commissar from the Communist party who was there to make certain every action met the ideological purity test.

“It was hard to imagine that they could have made this worse, but they did,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group. “This is a wholesale politicization of the process.” And since the US government is now in thrall to the fossil fuel industry, that politicization means the public interest will always be subservient to the whims of the coal. oil, and gas industry.

“The original goal was to stop E.P.A. from relying on these two studies unless the data is made public,” says Steven J. Milloy, a was a member of Trump’s E.P.A. transition team.  He now runs, a website that questions established climate change science and contends particulate matter in smog does not harm human health. He dismisses concerns that the new rule could be used to unravel existing regulations but says he does expect it to prevent pollution rules from getting tougher. “The reality is, standards are not going to be tightened as long as there’s a Republican in office.”

If ever you needed a reason not to vote for any Republican candidate, there it is. They are whores for the fossil fuel industry and would happily throw you under the bus if it keeps the campaign cash flowing. America is no longer a nation. It is a criminal enterprise designed for the enrichment of those in power. Any pretense of governing has long since been expunged from Republican ideology. Why people continue to vote for these rapacious thieves is a mystery with no discernible answer.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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