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US EPA's science ‘transparency’ proposal likely delayed until 2020

Organisation - EPA building © Ritu Jethani - Fotolia.com

The US EPA does not plan to finalise its controversial science ‘transparency’ proposal until early 2020, according to its recently released autumn regulatory agenda.

The ‘Strengthening transparency in regulatory science’ proposal – announced in April – seeks to overhaul the EPA’s process for evaluating science.

If adopted, it would require that the regulatory science underlying EPA actions be publicly available, and independently replicable and verifiable.

The proposal says this is necessary to ensure transparency and so the agency can pursue "its mission of protecting public health and the environment in a manner that the public can trust and understand." But its detractors say that it will result in the EPA disqualifying certain studies, which may lead to inadequate regulatory responses.

An array of organisations and individuals – including academics, consumer and environmental groups, and physicians – has argued that the proposed rule might be at odds with the requirements of TSCA. As amended by the 2016 Lautenberg Act, TSCA requires the EPA to rely on "best available science" and "reasonably available information", taking into account the "weight of scientific evidence". In August, nearly 90 organisations backed comments arguing that the measure is incompatible with this mandate.

"EPA should not adopt the proposed rule because it cannot be reconciled with the agency’s duties under TSCA," added the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in a separate comment letter.

However, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Chemistry Council have defended the proposal, saying that the agency should "show its work" when regulating, especially when it comes to health, environment, livelihoods and economy.

It has been a source of controversy for an agency already experiencing upheaval under the Trump administration. The comment period was extended from the original 30 days, finally closing on 16 August. During that time, the EPA received over half a million responses.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra – who was among the 16 state-level attorneys general to file a comment opposing the measure during its consultation – considers the delay a small victory for those who oppose it.

"EPA just shelved this misguided proposal," Mr Becerra said on Twitter. "Now they should get back to their core mission of protecting human health and the environment."

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