Court Rules Trump Administration’s Censored Science Rule Was Issued Unlawfully

January 27, 2021
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718,

(Great Falls, MT – January 27, 2021) A federal district court ruled today that the Trump administration was wrong to issue its Censored Science Rule without following proper procedures, and said that its decision also “casts into significant doubt” whether the rule has any legal basis at all.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana’s decision increases the odds that the harmful and highly controversial rule won’t survive lawsuits opposing it, and opens the door for EPA to suspend the rule until the courts finish hearing those lawsuits.

“The Trump administration broke the law by issuing a harmful rule to censor life-saving medical science, and broke the law again by trying to make the rule immediately effective,” said EDF senior attorney Ben Levitan. “The Censored Science Rule weakens EPA’s ability to protect Americans from dangerous pollution, toxic chemicals and other threats. Today’s ruling delays the rule’s effective date, and also undercuts the legal basis for issuing the rule at all. We’ll also keep fighting to get this rule off the books for good.”

“This is a great day for science and public health. It’s a relief to have a court agree that the previous administration acted illegally in its parting shot at science and basic public health protections. We can all breathe easier. Literally,” said Anne Hedges, director of policy and legislative affairs for the Montana Environmental Information Center.

The ruling came on the same day that President Biden issued a memorandum saying that it will be the “policy of my Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.”

Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler rushed the Censored Science rule to the finish line just days before leaving office. The rule would undermine the agency’s ability to protect public health and the environment by fundamentally transforming the ways in which EPA may consider scientific evidence. It would restrict EPA’s ability to use rigorous, peer-reviewed medical research for which underlying data are not publicly available – even when legal and ethical rules, like medical privacy laws, would prohibit making that data public.

Wheeler tried to make the Censored Science Rule effective immediately upon its publication in the Federal Register. However, the law clearly requires that substantive rules have an effective date of “not less than 30 days” after publication. If Wheeler had followed the proper protocols, the rule would not yet have been effective when the Biden EPA took over. Wheeler’s end run around the proper procedures was an effort to tie the hands of the incoming administration.

EDF, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and Citizens for Clean Energy filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana challenging Wheeler’s undue haste. The groups also argued that rule was “substantive” even though it was issued under a statute that cannot be used for substantive rules.

Today the court granted the groups’ motion for summary judgment, and sent a strong signal that it is inclined to find the rule unlawful on the merits, saying:

“The Court’s above determination that the Final Rule represented a substantive rule rather than procedural rule casts into significant doubt whether EPA retains any legal basis to promulgate the Final Rule.” (Decision, page 30)

Today’s decision also allows the groups to petition the Biden EPA to stay the rule during the rest of the litigation.

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