Public records confirm EPA’s “censored science” proposal was an end-run around Congress

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The Trump administration is reportedly expanding its dangerous plan — originally proposed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt — to limit the scientific evidence that the agency can consider when establishing public health protections.

According to a story in the New York Times, the new proposal will be even more damaging than Pruitt’s version – which was flatly illegal and would have left Americans more exposed to dangerous contaminants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we use.

The original proposal was based on failed congressional legislation whose sponsor “pitch[ed]” the idea to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. But newly released public documents show that the origins of the “censored science” proposal are more cynical than we knew.

EDF sued to obtain the public records after EPA violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not releasing them, with Earthjustice representing us in the litigation.

The new public records reveal just how explicitly Trump’s EPA is attempting to defy Congress by implementing its “censored science” policy through administrative rulemaking. It turns out that – from the beginning – EPA’s overt goal was to implement the same damaging ideas that the Senate refused to pass.

The records include an agenda for a January 9, 2018 meeting between Pruitt and then-Representative Lamar Smith. Smith sponsored the failed legislation at issue, which was misleadingly called the HONEST Act. That legislation was opposed by leading scientific organizations, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that it would “significantly reduce” the number of studies EPA relies upon.

The agenda states that Smith’s “main objective for the meeting is to find a way to have EPA implement the HONEST Act objectives outside of the legislative process since it is unlikely to pass in the Senate.”

The agenda goes on to state that the legislation “is not likely to move in the Senate. The Congressman would like to discuss potential ways EPA could implement the principals [sic] of the bill without legislative action.”

Records from after the meeting between Pruitt and Smith drive the point home. An internal EPA meeting scheduled for January 26, 2018 was titled “HONEST Act Implementation,” and the stated purpose was to discuss “the agency’s implementation efforts of the HONEST Act.”

As EPA developed its proposal, Smith’s office remained involved. One of his top aides emailed a key EPA official on February 9, 2018 to schedule a meeting on the subject, noting that Smith “has been asking me daily about the status of this meeting.”

Less than three months later, EPA released its “censored science” proposal, which deceptively made no mention of the failed legislation it was based on.

According to today’s New York Times article, the anticipated supplemental proposal from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler would apply the “censored science” policy to an even wider array of EPA activities, vastly increasing the risk to public health and the environment.

EDF will continue to fight any proposal that would preclude EPA from basing its public health and environmental protections on the best available science.

Read more about EDF’s FOIA efforts — including additional records that we obtained about the “censored science” proposalon our Promoting Government Transparency web page.

By Ben Levitan

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