Comment: Trump Admin Finds Back Door For Tobacco Industry’s Plan to Censor Science

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Stop Pruitt rally 2017

This is a guest post by ClimateDenierRoundup.

Last October, we were thrilled to find out that Scott Pruitt’s tobacco-protecting “sound science “transparency” policy was put on the back burner at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), essentially relegating it to regulatory purgatory.

But if the Trump administration is committed to anything, it’s attacking science and reality. The policy has reared its ugly chimera head again in a memo the White House sent out to federal agencies last Wednesday.

As Marianne Lavelle reported at InsideClimate News, the memo echoes Pruitt’s proposed plan. But by going through the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, this memo manages to bypass the formal public peer review process that held up Pruitt’s version of the policy over at the EPA. Ironic, given that the memo itself emphasizes the importance of public peer review…

The guidance memo basically instructs federal regulators to better identify key studies that regulations rely on, make the code underlying studies public when possible, make data available for reproduction, allow anyone to request corrections, and require different people to adjudicate correction appeals than those who initially addressed the correction.

While these things may sound anodyne, the net effect is “about delay,” UCS’s Andrew Rosenberg told Lavelle. “Every piece of this allows industry to make a claim that will delay the process of regulations.”

One of the earliest and most reliable tactics the tobacco industry used (and still uses) to fight regulations was to hire experts to dive into the data on smoking and cancer, and slice and dice it until they could claim the original finding was flawed. So while these policies would absolutely help well-intentioned researchers spot accidental errors in the regulatory process, they will also make it easier for industry to gum up the works.  

By forcing agencies to highlight keystone studies, this memo will help industry find its targets for correction requests. It can then get the underlying code and data of the study, analyze and tweak that to get the answer it wants, and then request a correction.

At that point, the agency has to respond — but this new memo stipulates that those who make the final decision can’t be the experts who responded to the request for correction, which means the people who know the most about the issue will be prevented from making the decision on the correction.

But sure, maybe the former Heritage Foundation official who sent this guidance has the best interest of science in mind. Maybe he and the Trump administration are tired of getting shut down in courts for ignoring science. Maybe the fact that the administration keeps getting caught red-handed censoring science or ignoring it isn’t an indication that it disregards “sound science.”

Or maybe these changes only sound like they’re good for science, when really what they’re meant to do is make it easier for industry to continue polluting.

Main image: February 2017 rally opposing EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. Credit: Lorie ShaullCC BY-SA 2.0

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