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Critics Worry Pruitt's Science Guidelines Could Undercut Clean Air Efforts

Judy Fahys/KUER News
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited Salt Lake City last summer to talk about scrapping a water regulation. He's talking now about revamping the science that inform his agency's health and safety regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he’s putting new limits on which scientific studies can be factored into the nation’s environmental laws and policies. He told the conservative web site, The Daily Caller, last week that he wants more “transparency” in scientific research.

His move could have big implications for the environment in the West, because federal regulations on water, air, toxic contamination and climate change are often based on confidential medical information that researchers can only use if they promise to keep it private.

C. Arden Pope of Brigham Young University has done some of the pioneering research on the effects of air-pollution. He said details about EPA’s new science policy are still unclear. But he added: “What they are doing [at EPA] is restricting the use of air-pollution studies where the raw data is not made available to the public online.”

He questioned whether it will allow thousands of environmental studies to be included in the nation’s decisions, like the ones that led to clean-air regulations now forcing Utah to clean up winter smog.

“In many cases, by law and by ethical standards,” Pope said, “the raw data cannot be made publicly available.”

Pope pointed out that health and safety regulations — for everything from land, water, air and toxic chemicals to climate change — are based on a robust scientific process. Other critics are also defending current practices.

Credit Judy Fahys/KUER News
Munkh Baasandorj is a scientist studying Utah's pollution problem and potential solutions. Many regulations prompting work like this blend observed pollution with medical data that has personal details stripped out. This practice could end under a new 'transparency' policy coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Brian Moench, founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, agrees that the science on the harm caused by air pollution is validated by thousands of studies by Pope and other researchers. He called Pruitt’s new policy “a blatant violation of the government’s obligation to protect us.”

“It’s definitely a waste of everybody’s time,” he added “And it’s an exercise in dishonesty, and it’s an assault on science.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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