EPA Tweets on Science That Might Not Pass Pruitt's Litmus Test

(Bloomberg) -- It’s Air Quality Awareness Week and the Environmental Protection Agency is taking the opportunity to share some important medical advice.

In a series of tweets and elsewhere online, the agency is drawing attention to the impact of air pollution on health by citing scientific studies and other material.

But critics were quick to point out that some of the very studies being highlighted might not be allowed under proposed guidelines to restrict studies used in policy making.

On April 24, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed the "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule that would break with decades of federal practice by limiting the science available to regulators. Pruitt said the proposal was designed to enhance transparency in rule-making, but critics say it could preclude the use of studies that rely on data that has been anonymized, with information that could identify the participants removed.

That’s why otherwise innocuous Twitter posts from several EPA accounts -- including the EPA Office of Research and Development; EPA Region 6, which covers the south-central U.S.; and EPA Indoor Air Plus -- on air quality have become noteworthy.

Air Pollution and Lead Exposure

The posts link to a range of materials, from news articles, such as an April 17 Reuters story about links between heart disease and air pollution, to a peer-reviewed article about child lead exposure science and policy making. The latter study was published in the September issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Heath Sciences.

John Walke, a senior attorney and clean-air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said some of those studies wouldn’t pass muster under Pruitt’s proposal.

"If enacted, Pruitt’s plan could bar the agency from relying on important studies like these when setting health standards," Walke said by email.

The administration and conservative activists commonly label the practice of granting confidentiality to people included in some of those studies "secret science." Environmentalists call the Pruitt’s move "censoring science."

"The administrator is absolutely right to want to make sure the basis for federal policy is strong and relies on research that is reproducible," said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago. "Where I find it difficult to follow the logic is assigning zero weight to research that has been peer-reviewed and complies with the disclosure regulations of federal agencies that have collected the data,"

The EPA press office did not respond to emails requesting comment.

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