- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Even as he faces increasing pressure within his own party to resign, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pressed ahead Tuesday with yet another highly controversial policy move — this time to change how the agency uses science in its rule making.

Mr. Pruitt’s proposal, which will be open for public comment for 30 days before becoming official, would require that any scientific studies used as justification for federal regulations be fully transparent, and that the underlying data and methodology in those studies must be made public.

“The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an end,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement. “The ability to test, authenticate, and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of rule making process. Americans deserve to assess the legitimacy of the science underpinning EPA decisions that may impact their lives.”

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The move — which was immediately panned by many scientists, environmentalists and Democrats who said it could invalidate old reviews for which data aren’t available, and could force researchers to reveal personal information about participants in health studies, for example — comes as the political storm around Mr. Pruitt continues to grow.

Prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill are now calling on the agency chief to appear before Congress and answer questions about a host of ethical controversies, including Mr. Pruitt’s $50-per-night condo rental from the wife of a prominent energy industry lobbyist.

In recent days, it was revealed that Mr. Pruitt met with that lobbyist, Steven Hart, last July to discuss matters before the EPA, fueling serious concerns about conflicts of interest and speculation the administrator got a sweetheart deal in exchange for regulatory relief on the oil and gas industry.

In addition, Mr. Pruitt has faced criticism over his use of first-class travel at taxpayer expense, a pricey private security detail, efforts to silence those within the agency who disagree with him.

Republicans who had been highly supportive of Mr. Pruitt seem to be slowly changing their tune. Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the EPA chief should appear before the panel and address his growing list of ethical questions.

“I think that a couple of us on the committee think it’s appropriate to have a hearing in so far as any accusation having to do with his office is concerned,” Mr. Inhofe, a vocal supporter of the administrator, told Politico.

At least four congressional Republicans have explicitly called on Mr. Pruitt to step down. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey became the latest on Sunday.

“Yes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. Wrong fit from start for agency dedicated to protecting our environment,” he tweeted. “#EarthDay2018 reinforces our need to promote pristine planet via clean air & water, leaving it better for future generations. Requires leadership & balance.”

Mr. Pruitt already is scheduled to appear before two separate House panels on Thursday to discuss the agency’s budget, though he’ll certainly be peppered with questions about his conduct.

Meanwhile, the administrator has tried in recent weeks to keep the focus on policy, and Republicans and business groups praised his “secret science” order Tuesday.

“The American people should have access to the data the government uses to justify its regulations. It’s not enough for the government to say ‘trust us.’ For that reason, we applaud EPA’s policy reforms to ensure that the studies and data used to formulate and justify rule makings are clearly identified and available for review — a concept that shouldn’t be controversial,” said Dan Byers, vice president of the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents of the move say it will greatly limit the amount of scientific research allowed inside the EPA, and that the government already is remarkably transparent with its underlying data.

“The one thing that is humming along at an alarming rate is the systematic dismantling of the EPA and environmental regulations by the current administration,” said Neil Donahue, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “The EPA’s idea of imposing new restrictions on scientific studies used to develop and justify regulations would be inherently damaging. The drive for more open and complete access to data is growing, but that in no way means that prior findings are being thrown out or ignored because the data are not fully available.”

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