Blog Post Theresa Pierno May 31, 2018

A Transparent Ploy to Hinder Science

An open letter to embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

Last month, you released a proposal that would drastically change how the Environmental Protection Agency considers scientific research. This proposal, misleadingly dubbed the “transparency rule,” would forbid your staff from using scientific studies in key policy decisions if the data is not publicly available.

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I shouldn’t need to tell you this, but your agency is charged with protecting our environment. That means your decisions deal with health impacts and rely on medical records — exactly the kind of data that should never be made public.

The sensitive nature of this data does not make it unreliable. On the contrary, this information is essential for understanding how people are affected by environmental contaminants so that your agency can create effective regulations under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Water Drinking Act and other bedrock environmental laws. How can EPA determine the ways that pollutants contribute to problems such as asthma attacks and premature deaths and address these issues without being able to account for who is getting sick and how?

Your plan could force scientists to disclose the health records of the families and children who suffer from asthma or are sickened by polluted water — or to not conduct scientific studies at all. “See no sickness, hear no sickness, speak of no sickness” is an unacceptable guiding principle for EPA scientists!

Meanwhile, you want to keep industry data confidential, creating a double standard that favors polluters over those impacted by their pollution. The only thing transparent about your rule is the outcome it would have: compromising science to the detriment of human health and our environment for the benefit of big polluters. This rule hinders sound policy making, undermining the strong, well-founded basis for the safeguards that protect millions of people and the places we all love.

EPA’s scientific research policies influence not only EPA’s work, but also the work of other agencies charged with protecting our health and environment. The National Park Service in particular must continue to have access to the best available science to make sound and informed decisions that protect the national parks’ air, lands, water, wildlife and people. These agencies cannot effectively protect our health and environment if EPA unreasonably limits the scientific record, as your proposal does.

Your “transparency” proposal is injecting controversy, confusion and partisanship into what should be straightforward and non-partisan. Science is based on objective information — not opinions. Science supports well-informed policies, but only if leaders like you are honest and forthright about the problems we’re trying to solve together.

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Rather than categorically exclude science, you should trust your experienced, professional scientists and advisors to do what they are trained to do: weigh all of the best available evidence in light of its strengths and weaknesses, including the level to which it has been peer reviewed and independently validated. When faced with the inevitable uncertainty of scientific process and information, your agency should err on the side of keeping people and parks healthy and safe.

That means continuing to use the best available science — not shunning sound and well-established practices to confuse and complicate the important job of protecting public health and the environment. If you truly care about sound science and the mission of the agency you were hired to lead, you’ll withdraw this terrible proposal immediately.

About the author

  • Theresa Pierno President and CEO

    Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.