Backyard Talk

Limiting Science in Government

Just before the Thanksgiving Holiday, the New York Times ran a story about EPA’s plan to limit the studies and information that would be used by the agency in evaluating public health risks when setting regulations. The original proposal called, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, was proposed in April of 2018 and would require scientists and researchers to disclose their raw data including confidential medical records before the agency would consider a study’s conclusions. The findings of researchers who did not comply with this rule would be not be considered by EPA when reviewing and setting standards.
The original proposal released during Scott Pruitt’s term as administrator at EPA, was met with huge outcry from the scientific and medical community. According to the Times article, nearly 600,000 comments were submitted, the vast majority of which opposed the proposal including some of the leading scientific organizations in the country such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The prime opposition to the proposed requirements is that many studies linking disease outcomes with pollution and chemical exposures are based on personal health information protected by confidentiality agreements. For example, a critically important study linking mortality and premature deaths to exposure to particulates in the air of urban areas relied on personal health information provided by people who signed confidentiality agreements. The researchers would not have been able to do this study without obtaining these agreements. This research design is standard accepted procedure that has been in place in the scientific community for many years. Under the proposed rule, the results of studies involving the use of personal health information would not be considered by EPA when setting related rules and regulations unless the researchers were willing to break their confidentiality agreements.
Despite enormous opposition from some of the leading scientific and medical organizations and institutions in the country, EPA seems bent on going forward with this plan. In a scathing rebuttal to the Times article, the agency stated that it “still intends to issue a final rule in 2020.
This incredibly bad proposal is consistent with the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine and ignore standard science that does not meet political objectives. If finalized, many legitimate scientific findings will be ignored for political advantage and that’s not only bad science, but it’s bad policy.


EPA rolls back chemical plant safety regulations

The EPA finalized a rule  relieving chemical plant facilities from some of the major safety regulation set by the chemical disaster rule. The EPA explained in their press release Thursday that the updated rule will no longer require facilities to consider safer technology alternatives. In combination with other regulation easements, the update is expected to save American $88 million a year. However, groups are not as convinced that the change will keep chemical plant employees and surrounding communities safe. Read More. 

Backyard Talk

Designed to Fail – An inside Look at Why Regulatory Agencies Don’t Work

How often have you sat in a public meeting with a government representative at the front of the room responding to questions from the public with answers that make no sense? Maybe his answers are legally accurate (that is, they are doing what is required by law), but are they following the spirit of the law in involving members of the public in the decision-making process? Rarely does government engage the public as an equally or even as a partner.

Have you ever wondered why it always seems to be this way? Have you ever asked why does the government do things the way it does? A fascinating look into what makes government tick was published today in Independent Science News. The article, “Designed to Fail: Why Regulating Agencies Don’t Work,” provides an insiders look into how government works, or more to the point, why it doesn’t work. The author, William Sanjour, retired in 2001 after spending 30 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mostly working on its regulations. Sanjour provides unique insight and offers counter-intuitive advice. He tells us that most people think you need to “fill the regulatory agencies with honest people who won’t cave in to special interests. “Give them more money, more authority and more people.” Instead, he says that “concentrating all legislative, executive and judiciary authority in one regulatory agency just makes it easier for it to be corrupted by the industries it regulates.”

Sanjour goes on. “I’ve learned that the way to achieve true regulatory reform is to give regulatory agencies less money, less authority, fewer people but more intelligent regulations.” He points out that by dispersing regulatory authority, rather than concentrating it, it would make corruption more difficult and make it easier to write more sensible regulations.

Public interest comes and goes, he says. “The interest of Congress, the press, and the public can only be maintained for a few months or years. There are lots of other things going on. But there is one group whose interest never wanes or wavers. The life, the existence, the future of the regulated industry depends on the pressure it can exert on the regulatory agency. At least that’s what the special interests believe.”

Here’s what Sanjour believes needs to be done:

1) Agencies which enforce regulations should not write the regulations.
2) The revolving door should be shut.
3) Whistle blowers should be protected, encouraged and rewarded.
4) To the greatest extent feasible, those who the regulations are intended to protect should participate in writing and enforcing the regulations.

The full article is available on-line at