A Sad Day for Scientific Transparency
Last week, at the request of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lawyers, a U.S. District Court in Montana vacated the EPA’s recent Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule—also known as the “secret science” rule—that would have restricted the agency from crafting regulations based on scientific research that is not made public or cannot be reproduced by other scientists.
The decision allows the Biden administration to shortcut the process for developing a new rule by eliminating the need to invest the time and resources to unwind the existing regulation through the standard rulemaking process.
I have previously praised the rule, both in commentary here and in Real Clear Science, for giving preferential treatment to scientific research conducted in the open over those where researchers decline to share their data. It is good for the EPA, the scientific community, American consumers, and the Biden Administration, as it fair, non-partisan, and non-ideological. It would increase the awareness of what scientific evidence went into the regulation-making process, reduce our reliance on opinions that may be based on agenda-driven research, and enhance our collective trust in science itself.
I also noted that the principles on which the new rule is based may be extended to American courtrooms, where tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging all types of damages from exposure to a wide variety of chemicals, compounds, and minerals are being prepared in the hope that the EPA will issue impossible-to-meet standards for dosage and exposure levels that will pave the way for millions—if not billions—of dollars in out-of-court settlements and contingency fees.
Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden repeatedly promised to “follow the science” if elected, offering individuals like me and organizations like ours a bit of optimism.
Therefore, I must admit my disappointment at the near immediate decision by the new administration to eliminate this rule—supporting its enactment would have demonstrated to all stakeholders that this pledge was taken seriously.
Science is not a partisan football to be punted back and forth every time a new president is elected. Science is grounded in several basic principles, of which transparency is one of the most important. The repeal of the EPA transparency rule dramatically increases the chances for regulatory decisions—and the corresponding litigation to enforce them—to be based on cherry-picked evidence that meets the pre-ordained opinions and ideologies of a small group of policymakers. If that is the case, it will be a sad day for science and a feast day for those invested in secrecy.