This week, federal Judge Brian Morris ruled against a prior Trump administration attempt to immediately implement a restriction on the usage by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of scientific studies whose underlying data isn’t publicly available. Although the Trump administration characterized this restriction as merely a procedural rule, Morris concluded that the change was actually substantive in nature, delaying its implementation until (at least) February 5. The Biden administration recently issued a halt on pending rule changes across the government for 60 days, aiming to address those that raise “substantial questions of fact, law, or policy,” so the attempted EPA change could be entirely in jeopardy.
The proposed restriction on the usage of scientific studies without publicly available underlying data could unfairly diminish the impact of efforts where data is private because of concerns like privacy. Rather than merely a procedural concern, the rule change would have punitively kept certain studies out of the EPA’s toolkit — the measure “determines outcomes rather than process,” Judge Morris noted. He added as follows:
‘The Final Rule’s status becomes particularly clear when one examines what it is missing—any kind of procedure. EPA itself noted in its rulemaking that it would have to issue future guidance on how the rule operates procedurally… EPA failed to show a need for urgent implementation when it took more than two-and one-half years to finalize this regulation.’
Ben Levitan, who works as senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, which fought against the proposal, commented as follows after the ruling:
‘The Trump administration broke the law by issuing a harmful rule to censor life-saving medical science, and broke the law again by trying to make the rule immediately effective. The Censored Science Rule weakens EPA’s ability to protect Americans from dangerous pollution, toxic chemicals and other threats.’
The attempted rule change was one of numerous incidents where the Trump administration allowed environmental protection concerns to falter in the wake of their insistence on prioritizing ideological issues. Repeatedly, they cleared the way for interests like big business without meaningfully mitigating negative impacts on the environment. Besides some of Trump’s most prominent steps like his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord — a move that Biden has now reversed — the Trump administration also, among other developments, entirely removed certain areas of water from federal supervision and attempted to loosen restrictions on coal facilities, although a federal appeals court struck down that latter effort on Trump’s final full day in office.