Deconstructing Regulatory Science

by Wendy Wagner | June 19, 2018

Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt recently opened another front in his battle to redirect the agency away from its mission to protect human health and the environment. This time, he cobbled together a proposed rule that would drastically change how science is considered during the regulatory process.

Opposition soon mobilized. In addition to the traditional forces of public interest groups and other private-sector watchdogs, the editors of the most prominent scientific journals in the country raised the alarm and nearly 1,000 scientists signed a letter opposing the proposal.

This essay offers a contextual explanation of the reasons why scientists, who are typically loathe to enter the regulatory fray, are so alarmed.

In normal times, when agencies must evaluate the scientific evidence that informs a significant policy decision about health or environmental hazards, they typically take four sequential steps:

  • First, they convene a group of respected scientists from within and sometimes from outside the agency that includes representatives of the disciplines needed to make the determination, such as neurologists, statisticians, pediatricians, and hydrogeologists.
     
  • Second, the scientists gather all the available scientific research and review it carefully, making informed judgments about which studies are more or less convincing.
     
  • Third, in a synthesis stage known as ...

Agency U-Turns

by Daniel Farber | June 18, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The Trump administration is doing its best to wipe out Obama's regulatory legacy. How will the courts respond to such a radical policy change? The philosophical clash between these last two presidents is especially stark, but this is far from being the first time that agencies have taken U-turns. This is the fifth time in the past 40 years that control of the White House has switched parties, with accompanying changes in regulatory approaches. Yet the underlying statutory ...

Trump's War on Progressive, Competitive Energy Markets

by Hannah Wiseman | June 13, 2018
It is widely recognized that President Trump has pushed an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda on the environmental front, but this agenda often hides a second, anti-free-market battle waged in the energy context. For decades, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have worked to move the country toward competitive markets in the sale of wholesale energy – energy that generators sell to utilities, or which utilities sell to each other, and then to retail customers. Congress and FERC believed that ...

The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

by Elena Franco | May 31, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. As one of America’s first colonies, Virginia has a long history of industrialization and its consequent pollution along its waterways. It also has a long history of floods. This combination provides a potential for toxic flooding, putting Virginia's population and livelihoods at risk. The James River, named “America’s founding river” and spanning most of the state, is prone to floods, ...

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact. Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of ...

Shapiro Takes on Pruitt's Pseudo-Transparency Rule

by Matthew Freeman | May 29, 2018
While most of the press EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting these days has to do with his various over-spending scandals, his more lasting impact is likely to be his scorched-earth approach to environmental protections. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, CPR’s Sid Shapiro highlighted one way Pruitt hopes to make an across-the-board, anti-environment impact: By limiting the scope of scientific studies that his agency may consider when developing safeguards. Under the guise of greater transparency, Pruitt ...

Connecting the Dots: Rob Verchick and Laurie Ristino Talk Food Security and Climate Change

by Matt Shudtz | May 15, 2018
CPR President Rob Verchick recently sat down to talk with one of our newest Member Scholars, Professor Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School, about the connections between climate change, food security, and policymaking tools like the Farm Bill that could be better used to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We’re excited to share an audio recording of that conversation here as a “soft launch” of a new product at CPR – our “Connect the Dots” podcast. It’s a work in progress. Our ...

Senators' Letter Brings Welcome Oversight to Troubled White House Office

by James Goodwin | May 10, 2018
Yesterday, six senators, led by Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, criticized Trump administration "regulatory czar" Neomi Rao and her office for what appears to have been a slapdash review of a highly controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft policy designed to stifle the agency's progress on advancing environmental and public health protections. Rao is the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a small but powerful bureau located within the Executive Office of the ...

The Questionable Legal Basis of the EPA 'Transparency' Proposal

by Daniel Farber | April 30, 2018
"They sat at the Agency and said, 'What can we do to reimagine authority under the statutes to regulate an area that we are unsure that we can but we're going to do so anyway?'" When he said those words, Scott Pruitt was talking about the Obama administration. But it seems to be a pretty accurate description of the "transparency" proposal he issued last week. Everyone agrees that it would be good to increase the public availability of scientific information ...

Recipe: Turning the House's Lemon of a Farm Bill into Lemonade

by Laurie Ristino | April 25, 2018
Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a pock-marked, micro-legislated Farm Bill along strict party lines. It's a shameful goody bag of legislative delights for a few that comes at the expense of the majority of the American people.  Some lowlights: The bill holds our hungriest Americans hostage by conditioning SNAP benefits (food stamps) on job training (what kind of country withholds food from its citizens?); reduces conservation dollars that are critically needed given the pitiful state of soil health ...

Scholars Call Out Congressional Committee for 'Mythification' of NEPA

by James Goodwin | April 24, 2018
Tomorrow, anti-environmental members of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing provocatively titled, "The Weaponization of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Implications of Environmental Lawfare" – yet another in a long line of conservatives' attempts to justify myriad legislative attacks against this bedrock environmental law. As more than 100 CPR Member Scholars and other academic leaders explain in a letter to committee members, though, the hearing would be more aptly titled "The Mythification of NEPA."  The ...

Unlearned Lessons from the 'Toxic Soup': Floods, Industrialization, and Missed Opportunities

by Elena Franco | April 18, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. As Hurricane Harvey lingered over Texas in 2017, it created a wall of water that swallowed much of Houston. Catastrophic flooding over a wide swath of southern Texas left towns, cities, and the countryside under feet of water. The floodwaters sloshed toxic chemicals from the area's 10 oil and gas refineries, 500 chemical plants, and 12 Superfund sites ...

At House Judiciary Hearing, CPR's Hammond Calls Out Efforts to Rig Environmental Review Process

by James Goodwin | April 12, 2018
This morning, CPR Member Scholar and George Washington University Law Professor Emily Hammond is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law at a hearing that will look at two highly flawed bills. While their particulars differ, each is conspicuously (if a bit clumsily) designed to rig the environmental permitting process to allow industry groups to ram through big infrastructure and construction projects while shutting out the public from its traditional and ...

Halftime for the Chesapeake Bay: New Webpage on Midpoint Assessment of Pollution Cleanup Effort

by Evan Isaacson | April 09, 2018
The Center for Progressive Reform has been closely watching the development and implementation of the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan since its inception. As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the success of the plan, known as the Bay TMDL, we have developed a new web-based resource focused on the issues and decisions related to the TMDL's midpoint assessment process. The page is a one-stop shop for advocates, members of the media, and residents concerned about restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as well ...

New Policy Research from CPR's Verchick Featured in Royal Society Report on Paris Climate Accord

by David Flores | April 05, 2018
A new report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A published earlier this week presents a suite of new scientific and policy research meant to improve and drive forward progress under the Paris Climate Agreement. The report – from the oldest science journal in the western world – is the culmination of presentations first delivered by attendees at the 25th anniversary conference of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. CPR Board President and Member Scholar Rob Verchick ...

What Happens on the Land Happens to the Water

by Evan Isaacson | March 29, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In my last post, I described how a database housed by the Maryland Department of the Environment allows tracking of land development activities in real time. This database not only gives us the ability to track the recent scale and pattern of habitat destruction in Maryland, but it also can be used by regulators to build a tool that will allow ...

What the Failure to Account for Growth Looks Like in Maryland

by Evan Isaacson | March 28, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. In a recent post, I described the broad failure of Chesapeake Bay states to follow EPA's basic expectations to account for pollution growth under the restoration framework known as the Bay TMDL. This failure is one important contributor to the current state of the Bay restoration, which is years behind schedule. If states don't hold the line on new pollution by ...

Holding the Line on New Pollution While We Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay

by Evan Isaacson | March 21, 2018
This post is part of an ongoing series on the midpoint assessment and long-term goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.  A few weeks ago, I discussed why the periodic written "expectations" from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are critically important to the Chesapeake Bay's restoration. These expectations communicate to the state and federal partners in the Chesapeake cleanup effort what they need to do and when in order to implement the coordinated plan of action necessary to reach the ...

Environmental Policy

The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.

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