EPA Updates Plans to Limit Use of Science in Decision-Making
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the cover of Super Tuesday to put out an update to its plans to limit scientific research in its decision-making on Tuesday evening, as the mass media world had its eyes focused on the election results trickling in.
The proposal, called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, is part of the agency's ongoing push to rewrite "the foundation on which public health and environmental rules are crafted," as E&E News reported.
As Common Dreams reported, the timing of the release was curious. In a tweet, Rebecca Leber from Mother Jones wrote, "an incredible news dump by EPA this evening. After delays, EPA just moved forward its most controversial proposal of the Trump administration, limiting science and medical data that can be used by the agency. Still far from a final rule but inching closer."
Experts say the move, which would restrict the type of research that can be considered in public health and environmental regulations, is one of the government's most far-reaching restrictions on science, according to The New York Times.
The proposal, which was first put forth in April 2018 by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, looked to exclude research where all the underlying data was not publicly available, even if that meant data was not shared because it would have violated medical privacy laws. The so-called "secret science" proposal received more than 600,000 comments during the public comment period. Most of them were critical of a proposal that would stop the agency from considering landmark public health research, according to The Hill. For example, under the proposal, the EPA would downplay studies that "definitively linked air pollution to premature deaths but relied on the personal health information of thousands of study subjects who had been guaranteed confidentiality," according to The New York Times.
"They're putting in nonscientific criteria to decide what science the agency can use," said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, as The New York Times reported. "Now the most important thing is whether the data is public, not the strength of the scientific evidence."
The new proposal makes a slight alteration. It would not flatly reject studies without publicly available information. Instead, it would create a tiered-system and give lower priority to studies where some of the data, even sensitive medical data, is not made public, according to The New York Times.
"In the midst of a public health crisis, Americans deserve a government that relies on the best available science to protect everyone against harm. This proposal does the opposite," said Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator and now president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.
"Now is not the time to play games with critical medical research that underpins every rule designed to protect us from harmful pollution in our air and in our water," McCarthy added. "This move is even more egregious than the last proposal, which the administration's own hand-picked scientists criticized."
The proposal seems to be in lockstep with the administration's systematic efforts to dismantle environmental regulations and to finalize the rollbacks before this year's election. The effort to dilute scientific-research is particularly beneficial to the fossil fuel industry, which is often hampered by studies about the climate crisis, air pollution or the safety of drinking water, as The New York Times reported.
"These additions and clarifications to the proposed rule will ensure that the science supporting the agency's decisions is transparent and available for independent validation while still maintaining protection of confidential and personally identifiable information," said Andrew Wheeler, the EPA's administrator, as E&E News reported.
However, observers have a much different take on the intent of the rule.
"It's increasing the damage of the proposed rule," said Betsy Southerland, former director of EPA's Office of Science and Technology and a member of the Environmental Protection Network, as E&E News reported.
"Number 1, it expands the scope of the rule, and number 2, by no means does it demonstrate they have a legal authority to do this rulemaking."
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A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
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An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
‘Protect Our Future’<p>Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/03/youth-climate-lawsuit-portugal-33-european-countries" target="_blank">bringing the case</a> with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (<span style="background-color: initial;">GLAN</span>), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.</p><p>Portugal recently sweltered through its <a href="https://www.ipma.pt/pt/media/noticias/news.detail.jsp?f=/pt/media/noticias/textos/resumo-clima-julho-20.html" target="_blank">hottest July in 90 years</a> and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017. </p><p>Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case." </p><p>"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."</p>
‘Highly Significant'<p>The decision represents a "highly significant" step, <a href="https://www.glanlaw.org/about-us" target="_blank">GLAN</a> Director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said in a <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/" target="_blank">press release</a>.</p><p>"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added. </p><p>By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.</p><p>If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.</p>
‘Major Hurdle’<p>The <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/the-case/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries targeted</a> include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement">Paris agreement</a> target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).<a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a></p><p><a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Action Tracker rates</a> most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.</p><p>The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/2030_ctp_en" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 55 percent by 2030</a>. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that <a href="http://www.caneurope.org/energy/climate-energy-targets" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">European climate campaigners say</a> is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.</p><p> The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense. </p><p>"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.</p><p>"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/11/29/court-advances-landmark-youth-climate-lawsuit-against-33-european-nations" target="_blank">DeSmog</a>. </em></p>
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