In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Building is shown in Washington. The Trump administration has completed action on one of its biggest remaining rollbacks of public health and environmental rules. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has wrapped up what he calls a transparency rule. The change could bar the agency from considering the findings of public-health studies unless the studies' raw data is made public. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

A final EPA rollback under Trump curbs use of health studies

The Environmental Protection Agency released one of its last major rollbacks under the Trump administration on Tuesday, limiting what evidence it will consider about risks of pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public health regulation.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new rule, which restricts what findings about toxic materials and other threats the agency can consider in crafting health protections, was made in the name of transparency about government decision-making. “We’re going to take all this information and shine light on it,” Wheeler said Tuesday while unveiling the terms of the new rule in a virtual appearance hosted by a conservative think-tank .

“I don’t think we get enough credit as an administration about wanting to open up … to sunlight and scrutiny,” Wheeler said of the Trump administration, which has already rolled back dozens of public health and environmental protections.

Opponents say the latest rule would threaten patient confidentiality and privacy of individuals in public health studies, and call the requirement an overall ruse to handicap future regulation.

The kind of research findings that appear targeted in the new rule “present the most direct and persuasive evidence of pollution’s adverse health effects,” said Richard Revesz, an expert in pollution law at the New York University School of Law.

“Ignoring them will lead to uninformed and insufficiently stringent standards, causing avoidable deaths and illnesses,” Revesz said in a statement.

Wheeler said the rule will go into effect Wednesday, just one day after its final terms were made public, an unusually brief period. The change comes after hundreds of thousands of earlier objections from scientists, public-health experts, regulators, academics, environmental advocates and others in public hearings and written remarks, in some of the strongest protests of a proposed EPA rule change.

Wheeler signed the rule last Wednesday. The EPA declined requests to release it until Tuesday.

The new regulation would restrict regulators’ consideration of findings from public health studies unless the underlying data from them are made public. The rule deals with so-called dose response findings, which look at harm suffered at varying exposures to a pollutant or other toxic agent.

Some industry and conservative groups have pushed for the change for decades, calling public health studies that hold confidential potentially identifying data about the test subjects “secret science.”

The change could limit not only future public health protections, but “force the agency to revoke decades of clean air protections,” Chris Zarba, former head of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, said in a statement.

Wheeler said Wednesday that the increased requirement for public disclosure would only increase public acceptance of EPA regulation.

Public health studies — such as Harvard’s 1990s Six Cities study, which drew on anonymized, confidential health data from thousands of people to better establish links between air pollution and higher mortality — have been instrumental in crafting health and environmental rules. The Six Cities study led to new limits on air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Wheeler was equivocal Tuesday on tossing out that pivotal study in particular as a basis for health rules. “It can still be used and probably will be used,” he said. “It could still pass muster.”

A senior Biden transition official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record, said the Trump administration appeared to be rushing to dismantle crucial federal regulations before leaving office Jan. 20.

The new limits on considering scientific findings were among many Trump changes that would “make it more difficult for the next administration to rebuild government to do its job,” the senior transition official said. Other rollbacks this week gutted protections for birds from unintentional killings by industry and aimed to open up formerly protected areas of the Arctic wilderness for oil and gas leasing.

The EPA’s final rule also deleted a section from its original proposal that would have specifically required regulators to consider a questioned scientific model backed by proponents of a theory that radiation and similar threats are not harmful at low doses, and can be beneficial. The scientific community for decades has held that all exposure to the most damaging form of radiation has risks.

The Associated Press first reported on expert concerns about that part of the rule. The EPA at the time denied any link to the controversial theory. However, the Los Angeles Times, citing emails obtained under open records laws, later reported that the theory’s most prominent backer, a toxicologist named Edward Calabrese, had worked with EPA officials in crafting that section of the rule.

The EPA final rule released Tuesday cited “significant comment” in opposition in saying it had removed those specific mentions.

The EPA has been one of the most active agencies in carrying out President Donald Trump’s mandate to roll back regulations that conservative groups have identified as being unnecessary and burdensome to industry.

Many of the changes face court challenges and can be reversed by executive action or by lengthier bureaucratic process. But undoing them would take time and effort by the incoming Biden administration, which also has ambitious goals to fight climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions and lessen the impact of pollutants on lower-income and minority communities.

Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police have charged two men after they allegedly tried to break into the Bentley post office with a semi. (Photo courtesy of RCMP)
Red Deer men charged in Bentley post office destruction

Police have charged a pair of Red Deer men after an attempted… Continue reading

Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about “inconsistencies” in the province’s new way of dispatching local ambulances. (Advocate file photo).
A few glitches are already noticed in Red Deer’s new ambulance dispatch system

Local fire-medics need more data about ambulance arrival times

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Cervus Equipment is planning to set up a new location near Highways 2 and 42 in Red Deer County. Graphic contributed
Cervus Equipment eyeing new Red Deer County location

Farm equipment busy looking to set up near Highways 2 and 42

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

This undated photo provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office, in Florida, shows Joshua Colon. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, officials said that Colon, who had been recently named “Paramedic of the Year,” helped a supervisor steal COVID-19 vaccines meant for first responders. (Polk County Sheriff's Office via AP)
‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

‘Paramedic of the Year’ accused of helping to steal vaccine

FILE - In this July 31, 2019, file photo, migrants return to Mexico, using the Puerta Mexico bridge that crosses the Rio Grande river in Matamoros, Mexico, on the border with Brownsville, Texas. A federal judge on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of President Joe Biden. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations. Tipton said the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” (AP Photo/Emilio Espejel, File)
Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, registered Nurse Shyun Lin, left, administers Alda Maxis, 70, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in the William Reid Apartments in the Brooklyn borough of New York. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)
US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

US boosting vaccine deliveries amid complaints of shortages

In this image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)
GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

GOP largely sides against holding Trump impeachment trial

People make their way through floodwaters in Beira Mozambique, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. The Mozambican port city of Beira breathed a sigh of relief as Cyclone Eloise caused less damage than feared as it passed through, but the danger of flooding remained in a region still recovering from a devastating cyclone two years ago. (AP Photo)
UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

UN: 250,000 people affected by Cyclone Eloise in Mozambique

This image released by the Sundance Institute shows Rita Moreno in a scene from "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It," an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute via AP)
With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

With many hungry for content, Sundance market heats up

FILE - Actor Danny Huston attends the National Board of Review awards gala in New York on Jan. 8, 2019. Growing up in Ireland, one of his favorite memories was when his father, director John Huston, would bring out the projector and they’d gather around to watch his films. “The Maltese Falcon” was always a highlight. Now the film is celebrating its 80th anniversary. It’s returning to theaters through Fathom Events for a limited engagement on Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

‘The Maltese Falcon’ returns to theatres at ripe age of 80

This photo provided by Eli Lilly shows the drug bamlanivimab. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, the company said that the two-antibody combo of bamlanivimab and etesevimab reduced the risk of hospitalizations or death by 70% in newly diagnosed, non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness because of age or other health conditions. (Eli Lilly via AP)
Studies extend hopes for antibody drugs against COVID-19

Studies extend hopes for antibody drugs against COVID-19

Most Read