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EPA Officially Minimizes Role of Science in Rulemaking

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Efforts to protect air and water quality in New Hampshire often depend on the use of public-health studies. (Ken Gallager/Wikimedia Commons)
Efforts to protect air and water quality in New Hampshire often depend on the use of public-health studies. (Ken Gallager/Wikimedia Commons)
January 6, 2021

CONCORD, N.H. - The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a new rule that says certain types of public-health studies can no longer be considered in making federal regulations - studies that underpin many of the current rules that protect air, land and water from pollution and toxic chemicals. It's seen as a major concession to big business, and comes at the tail end of Donald Trump's presidency.

Catherine Corkery, director and senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club's New Hampshire chapter, said she expects the Biden administration to reverse it.

"This is a travesty and totally unacceptable," she said, "and we are counting down the days of the end of this administration."

The current EPA is moving to exclude any public-health studies that contain personal medical data, saying the goals are to ease the regulatory burden on manufacturing and protect privacy. However, the agency already masks private data in its publications.

Corkery said public-health studies have been crucial to regulations that have lowered air pollution significantly in states such as New Hampshire, with one of the highest asthma rates in the country.

"These have proven to work," she said. "We have fewer cases of asthma and chronic diseases because of those improvements."

Conservation groups have argued that many important air-pollution rules under the Clean Air Act never would have come to pass without research such as the 1990 "Harvard Six Cities" study, which relied on personal medical data - stripped of identifying information - to link air pollution to higher death rates.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NH