In a move ostensibly aimed at increasing regulatory transparency, the EPA has proposed new rules that would require extensive disclosure of the data gathered in the research behind public health regulation—including confidential health records.
While improving transparency sounds reasonable at face value, this is actually a calculated move to eliminate background research that has been used to support the regulation of various industries in the name of public health. Health records by their very nature are required to be kept secret and cannot simply be made public to support government research, The Hill reports.
"This means the EPA can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths," the American Lung Association's Paul Billings told The New York Times.
The new procedure would invalidate any conclusions based on data that could not be disclosed, even applying retroactively to existing regulation, effectively using privacy to drive a wedge between scientific research and public policy.
By framing the proposal as a move toward increased transparency in government, the administration is effectively whitewashing what amounts to drastically increased restrictions on the supporting research regulators are allowed to reference when writing new regulations, or renewing or updating existing ones.
President Trump's administration is no stranger to elbowing scientists out of the regulatory process. The EPA has been especially egregious in its measures to eliminate independent scientific panels intended to advise rule-makers. Last year, the EPA dismissed advisers in charge of analyzing particulate emissions and ozone depletion.
The administration has made it plain that it intends to enable its supporters in the coal and agribusinesses industries, both of which often run afoul of environmental and public health regulation.