On March 23, AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh sent an email to all AAAS members urging them to weigh in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent supplemental update to the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule.
Let me be clear: the issue before us is much greater than environmental regulation. This is just a symptom of a larger problem. When science is sidelined, we all suffer. We must come together as a scientific enterprise—from astronomy to zoology—to stand up and speak out for the essential role that science must play in our policymaking process.” —Sudip Parikh
This resource page was created to provide helpful guidance as individuals prepared individual comments to submit to the Federal Register for a comment period that closed on May 18, 2020.
History of the Science Transparency Rule
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, a proposal that would mandate any study used by EPA have its raw data be publicly available and validated by a separate EPA review. This sweeping proposal risks limiting the wide swaths of research and data that the EPA uses or could use to make informed policy decisions in fulfilling their mission to protect the public health and environment.
The EPA’s original proposal was the subject of significant controversy, including nearly 600,000 public comments of concern and an EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) report raising issues. The recently released supplemental's stated intention is to address many of these concerns, however the proposal’s expansion of, and changes to, the original proposal create a whole new set of issues and concerns. The supplemental rule has a very short 30-day public comment period.
Suggestions for Submitting Public Comments
1). Always be respectful when submitting public comments on a proposed rule or policy. Civil, informed and succinct comments are the ones most likely to be taken seriously and have the most impact. Ad hominin attacks have no place in such a discourse.
2). To ensure your comment is considered, frame it with regard to the issues raised in the supplemental proposal. The EPA has stated it is only considering comments on the supplemental, and that all submissions received must include the Docket ID No. for this rulemaking: No. EPA-HQ-OA-2018-0259.
3). If possible, make your comments personal. The most effective comments are unique and specific. If you are a scientist or researcher whose research could be impacted by the rule, explain how and why it matters. If you’re someone who cares about the work that EPA does and why you think their regulations should be informed by the best science available, tell that story to the EPA. Bear in mind that you are submitting comments on behalf of yourself and not that of your institution, your employer or AAAS.
4). To draw EPA’s attention and elicit a response, don’t just simply disagree with the agency’s policy; make a substantive argument. Address potential negative impacts of the proposal, factors that may have been overlooked, unintended consequences, etc. If there are aspects of the supplemental rule where there was a positive change or that you agree with the language, please acknowledge it.
For helpful information on the proposal, AAAS has weighed in many times regarding the transparency rule. Below are links to these comments.
- AAAS Statement: EPA “Transparency Rule” Weakens the Use of Science in Policymaking [March 18, 2020]
- Letter from AAAS Interim CEO Alan Leshner to U.S. House Science Committee on EPA and Transparency [November 11, 2019]
- Testimony of former AAAS CEO before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee [October 3, 2018]
- Letter from former AAAS CEO Rush Holt to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Regarding Proposed Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Rule [July 16, 2018]
- Public Health, Medical, Academic, and Scientific Groups Oppose EPA Transparency Rule [July 16, 2018]
- Joint Statement from Scientific Journals on EPA Proposed Rule and Public Availability of Data [May 4, 2018]
- Op-Ed written by House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in The Hill [April 10, 2020]
- House Science Committee Hearing on the EPA Transparency Rule and Draft Supplemental [November 13, 2019]
- Memo to the Democratic Members of the Science committee on their meetings with EPA
- Editorial in Nature “The sustained undermining of science by the EPA’s leaders is a travesty”
For suggested talking points, below is language highlighting the main concerns AAAS and others in the scientific community have expressed in commenting on the original proposal. Feel free to use these in your comments, but remember, personal and unique comments are the most effective and this particular comment period is for those on the supplemental.
- I call on the EPA to table the comment period of this rule until the national emergency is over. During this time when the nation, including many of its scientific, health, and research institutions which would be directly impacted by this rule are working around the clock to address the COVID-19 crisis, an extension should be granted for stakeholders to properly weigh in.
- Stakeholders representing state and local government officials — including the National Governors Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of State Legislatures — sent a letter to the White House requesting a suspension of public comment periods during the pandemic. “The extreme impact on normal working and living conditions will impair the ability of not only state and local officials, but also the general public, issue experts and others to provide thoughtful and meaningful participation and involvement in potential federal government actions that directly affect millions of people,” the letter states.
- Transparency is an essential ingredient of science and the scientific process. However, this rule and supplemental are not about strengthening science, but about undermining the ability of the EPA to use the best available science in setting policies and regulations.
- The proposed rule, including changes in the supplemental, risks undermining EPA’s ability to use the best available science in its policymaking process and thus impede EPA’s mission to protect human and environmental health.
- Because raw data cannot always be made public for a study, whether to protect personal or confidential business information, does not mean the study is any less valid or valuable. However, that is precisely what this proposal risks codifying.
- Requiring raw data to be made publicly available before a study can be utilized, or weighting studies as less influential, risks cutting off the types of foundational research that has informed EPA’s work for decades. This means the federal government could interject a non-scientific metric in the evaluation of a study beyond its immediate quality.
- EPA’s original proposal was the subject of significant controversy, including nearly 600,000 public comments of concern and an EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) report raising issues. The supplemental’s stated intention is to address many of these concerns, however the proposal’s expansion of, and changes to, the original proposal create a whole new set of issues and concerns.
- I request, given the gravity of concerns from leading scientific, engineering, and higher education organizations, you hold public hearings on this rule and supplemental. The effect of this rule will have a profound impact on the use of science in the regulatory process, and the EPA needs to hear from as many scientists as possible.
If you have any questions, please reach out to Sean Gallagher in the AAAS Office of Government Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.