How we stopped Trump’s EPA from censoring science

When it comes to decisions about public health, using the best available science is better for all of us.

But the Trump administration — playing favorites to polluters — tried to keep some of the most important science out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision-making process, even making a last-minute push to establish a new rule that would have carried into the Biden administration.

If the Trump administration had succeeded, it would have meant more pollution in the environment and a greater threat of people being exposed to toxic chemicals.

Striking at exactly the right time, EDF and our partners blocked this dangerous attempt to censor science.

What science was at stake?

Initially proposed in 2018, the administration’s new rule would have restricted the EPA’s ability to use rigorous medical research for which underlying data are not public — even though the research often relies on personal information scientists must protect for legal and ethical reasons.

Even as the spread of the coronavirus reached pandemic level in early 2020, the Trump administration pushed to transform the ways the EPA can consider scientific evidence in matters of public health.

The administration said the rule was about promoting transparency. But we know it was really about letting polluters off the hook — polluters who for years have tried to prevent the EPA from considering key public health research.

Documents we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Trump EPA’s policy targeted landmark health studies that have been used to protect the public from toxic chemicals and air pollution, saving thousands of lives every year.

That research included evidence that certain levels of the chemical formaldehyde, sometimes used in furniture, can cause cancer, and it included evidence linking specific kinds of air pollution to asthma attacks and even premature death.

How we stopped the damage

Since the rule’s proposal, EDF built a case against it, submitting public comments to the EPA opposing it — including the fact that the agency failed to show how the rule benefited people’s health or the environment — and establishing a record of why the rule was illegal.

Disregarding widespread public opposition that included strong pushback from scientists and public health experts, Trump’s EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, rushed the rule to the finish line just days before leaving office in January.

He made the rule effective immediately. Our legal team knew that move was blatantly illegal.

New regulations like this have to wait 30 days before taking effect. With our partners — the Montana Environmental Information Center and Citizens for Clean Energy — EDF sued.

That lawsuit started a process that struck down the rule within a couple of weeks, with a federal court overturning it on Feb. 1.

The court decision is great news for the EPA’s ability to use rigorous, lifesaving science to protect everyone in the United States from dangerous pollution and toxic chemicals.

We’re glad the court recognized the potential harm and put a stop to it.

Ben Levitan, Senior Attorney, Legal and Regulatory

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