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Panel Reviews EPA Rule Changes for Scientific Studies

The EPA's Science Advisory Board is an independent panel tasked each year with reviewing the agency's proposed changes to rules and regulations. (Adobe Stock)
The EPA's Science Advisory Board is an independent panel tasked each year with reviewing the agency's proposed changes to rules and regulations. (Adobe Stock)
January 20, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- An independent panel of scientists convenes this week to review rule changes proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Critics say the changes could weaken protections of waterways across the country, restrict the use of scientific studies needed to create environmental regulations, and lower fuel-economy standards, among other changes.

Retired EPA scientist Chris Zarba said the panel is tasked with helping the agency make scientifically sound decisions.

"So, the Science Advisory Board is an independent panel of scientists," Zarba said. "Typically, the Science Advisory Board will hire 200-300 in a year to do different projects, and they review the agency's science and make recommendations so that the agency can ensure its science is sound and they can make informed decisions."

The public can submit comments through the end of May, before the board issues its final report. Zarba added the EPA isn't legally required to follow the board's suggestions. But, he said if the agency ignores the independent review, that raises red flags.

Zarba sees one of the rule changes, called "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science," as the most troubling. He explained when environmental accidents happen - like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan - scientists collect data from local residents.

"What typically happens is scientists and researchers will go to those communities, they'll measure the water concentrations, the drinking water concentrations, they'll measure the tissue and the blood samples from the residents," he said.

Zarba said people typically allow their data to be used in studies under certain conditions.

"When those people that were exposed give the scientists and the researchers permission to use their data, they typically signed a confidentiality agreement, saying that you can use my data, you can use my information, but you can't share my name and my address and my phone number," he explained.

The rule change would mandate the data could not be used to set federal standards unless these identifying details are made publicly available, raising privacy concerns.

Zarba argues names and addresses aren't necessary for analyzing how a chemical or compound affects the body. He believes the rule change was designed to scrub data from the standard-setting process.

"Which means that the vast majority of the most powerful data goes away," he said.

The EPA maintains if the public is likely to bear the cost of complying with the agency's regulations, it should have access to all data from the scientific studies pivotal to any action taken.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY