by H. Sterling Burnett
A direct challenge to the hardcore enviros who heretofore controlled and corrupted the agency.
Donald Trump committed to fundamentally transforming the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from an agency producing
politicized science to one instilling sound scientific standards for
research. By doing so, Americans should expect improved environmental
and health outcomes.
Currently, regulatory costs top $1.9 trillion
annually, which amounts to $14,842 per U.S. household. That’s nearly
$15,000 less for Americans to pay for health insurance, medical bills,
education expenses, groceries, gasoline, or entertainment. Because the
economic and social implications of regulations are profound, the
science they are built upon must be impeccable.
Over the last few decades — under Republican and Democratic
administrations — EPA formed a cozy relationship with radical
environmental activists and liberal academic researchers. With the
support of environmental lobbyists who despise capitalism (expressed by
consumers’ free choices in the marketplace) EPA bureaucrats, in pursuit
of more power and expanded budgets for the agency, funded researchers
who, because they were largely dependent on government grants for the
majority of their funding, were only too happy to produce results
claiming industry was destroying the earth.
Of course, the only
way to prevent environmental collapse was more government control of the
economy. However, these reports were produced despite the fact poverty
and hunger have steadily declined and people are living longer and more
productive lives than ever before.
Jay Lehr, a colleague and science director at the Heartland Institute
told me once, “For decades, EPA has been a wholly owned subsidiary of
the environmental left. Together, radical environmentalists and EPA
bureaucrats, including the members of all their advisory panels, have
used their considerable power to thwart American business at every
Under Trump, EPA changed how it pursues science to pay greater fealty
to the scientific method and remove temptations for scientific
self-aggrandizement and corruption.
Not surprisingly, researchers,
environmentalists, and bureaucrats, seeing their power curtailed and
their gravy train ending, are crying foul saying the Trump
administration is undermining science. However, in reality this is
simply not true.
EPA’s scientific advisory panels are tasked with
ensuring the research the agency uses to develop and justify regulations
is rigorous, has integrity, and is based on the best available science.
better ensure this, EPA ceased automatically renewing the terms of
board members on various panels. EPA is now filling its scientific
panels and boards on a competitive basis as each board member’s term
This should improve the science EPA uses to inform its decisions, by
expanding diversity — diversity of interests, diversity of scientific
disciplines, and diversity of backgrounds — thus bringing in a wider
array of viewpoints to EPA decision-making.
In addition, to reduce
opportunities for corruption, EPA ceased allowing members of its
federal advisory committees to apply for EPA research grants and
instituted policies to ensure advisory panel members and grant
recipients have no other conflicts of interest. It was always a foolish
practice to allow those recommending, often determining, who gets EPA
grants to also be in the running for those grants. However, this was
business as usual at EPA, where grant makers awarded themselves,
research teams they were members of, or their friends billions of
taxpayer dollars over the years.
In April, then EPA Administrator
Scott Pruitt declared “The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an
end.” Pruitt proposed requiring the data underlying scientific studies
used by EPA to craft regulations be available for public inspection,
criticism, and independent verification.
For years, EPA
bureaucrats have used the results of studies by researchers who would
not disclose the data underlying their results to be examined and
retested for confirmation or falsification. Fortunately, EPA is finally
ending this unjustifiable practice.
Many scientists have objected
to EPA’s new secret science policy because they claim the studies EPA
uses have undergone “peer review.” However, the peer review process is
often nothing more than other researchers, often hand-picked by the
scientists whose research is being reviewed, sitting around in their
ivory towers reading the reports and saying, “this looks okay or
reasonable to me.”
Unless the reviewers are able examine the underlying data and
assumptions, and attempt to replicate the results, peer review is unable
to ensure the validity of studies used to underpin regulations. Absent
transparency and replicability, peer review is hollow.
long overdue EPA regulatory reform was the decision to end exclusive use
of the “Linearity No Threshold” (LNT) model when assessing the dangers
of radiation, carcinogens, and other toxic substances in the
environment. Going forward, EPA will incorporate uncertainty into its
risk assessments using a variety of other, more realistic models.
LNT model assumes there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation or
exposure to various other chemicals or toxins. Relying on flawed studies
from the effect of ionizing radiation on fruit flies from the 1950s,
EPA and other regulatory agencies have used LNT as a basis for
regulation of environmental clean-ups, setting safety standards for
nuclear plants, and limiting low dose radiation treatments for medical
patients, a policy that has cost lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
science has progressed phenomenally since the 1950s, with copious
amounts of research showing the LNT model is seriously flawed, EPA and
other agencies never questioned the LNT standard. That is, until now.
fact, adverse effects from low dose exposures to radiation and most
other chemicals and potential toxins are often non-existent. Indeed,
substances that may be harmful in large quantities can be beneficial in
small amounts, a process known as hormesis.
In the commonly
paraphrased words of Swiss physician and astronomer Paracelsus, “the
dose makes the poison.” Vitamins, which are valuable in small
quantities, and even water, which is literally necessary for life, can
become deadly if too much of either is taken over a short period of
time. Or consider sun exposure. While exposure to too much sunlight can
contribute to skin cancer, sunlight is required to catalyze the final
synthesis of Vitamin D, which strengthens the bones, helping prevent
osteoporosis and rickets. There is also ample evidence sunlight can help
fight depression and several skin and inflammatory ailments.
reliance on the untenable LNT model with other models of exposure and
response will result in better safety and health protocols, potentially
saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives each year.
service of the American people and the pursuit of continued American
greatness, science practices at EPA are improving under President Trump.
One can only hope equivalent changes are adopted at other executive
agencies so the regulations they produce are grounded in the best
available science, free of political corruption and bureaucratic
incentives for agency mission creep and growth.
The article first appeared here.