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EPA Releases Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Proposed Rule
On April 30, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will publish in the Federal Register a proposed rule entitled "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" (Science Rule) that EPA states is intended to “strengthen the transparency of EPA regulatory science.” EPA states in the preamble that “[t]he proposed regulation provides that when EPA develops regulations, including regulations for which the public is likely to bear the cost of compliance, with regard to those scientific studies that are pivotal to the action being taken, EPA should ensure that the data underlying those are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.” EPA further states that “EPA is proposing to establish a clear policy for the transparency of the scientific information used for significant regulations: specifically, the dose response data and models that underlie what we are calling ‘pivotal regulatory science.’ ‘Pivotal regulatory science’ is the studies, models, and analyses that drive the magnitude of the benefit-cost calculation, the level of a standard, or point-of-departure from which a reference value is calculated.”
EPA intends the rule to provide this transparency “in a manner consistent with statutory requirements for protection of privacy and confidentiality of research participants, protection of proprietary data and confidential business information, and other compelling interests.” EPA “will use peer-reviewed information, standardized test methods, consistent data evaluation procedures, and good laboratory practices to ensure transparent, understandable, and reproducible scientific assessments.” EPA states that its “regulatory science” should be “consistent with the Office Management and Budget’s Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review,” and that “[r]obust peer review plays a critical role in independently validating key findings and ensuring that the quality of published information meets the standards of the scientific and technical community.” In addition, EPA states, the proposed rule “is designed to increase transparency of the assumptions underlying dose response models,” noting that “[t]he use of default models, without consideration of alternatives or model uncertainty, can obscure the scientific justification for EPA actions.”
EPA states: “Across EPA programs much of the science that informs regulatory actions is developed outside the Agency. It is the charge of regulators to ensure that key findings are valid and credible, as required by OMB’s Guidelines.” EPA “believes that concerns about access to confidential or private information can, in many cases, be addressed through the application of solutions commonly in use across some parts of the Federal government,” and “[n]othing in the proposed rule compels the disclosure of any confidential or private information in a manner that violates applicable legal and ethical protections.”
The rule as proposed has ten subparts:
EPA is soliciting comments on the proposed rule and “how it can best be promulgated and implemented in light of existing law and prior Federal policies that already require increasing public access to data and influential scientific information used to inform federal regulation.” Among the issues EPA asks for comment are the following:
On April 26, 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was a witness in a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Environment entitled The Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Budget. Administrator Pruitt discussed the forthcoming proposed rule at this hearing, stating that the rule is an effort to make the data and methodology that underlie scientific studies, oftentimes done by third parties, more accessible and more transparent -- especially to those interested stakeholders commenting on the determinations that the studies support. Many of the Committee members were supportive of the Science Rule, stating that the transparency is long overdue. Others expressed concerns with the proposed rule, including concerns about a potential for EPA to handpick certain “public” studies and to discount other valid studies only because they did not divulge all of their confidential data; and concerns regarding the inability to protect important confidential information, such as identities of patients.
The proposed rule is controversial and will likely be the subject of significant comment. Similar to when legislative proposals offer new terminology, the establishment and use of terms such as “pivotal regulatory science” suggest some distinction between it and “not so pivotal science” not subject to the new procedures and requirements. How such distinctions will be made and what the impact may be could be significant for companies that submit “routine” data under existing Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulations concerning registration data requirements. Interest in the subject has been reported to focus especially on questions some have raised about the way EPA has utilized studies and scientific data to support initiatives and rules issued by the air program. What that raises is a fear that addressing some concerns about how air regulations are justified might have unintended consequences in other EPA media programs.
In brief, for pesticide registrants, the rule poses significant potential issues. For example, registrants spending millions of dollars on studies necessary to register products that are proprietary and protected from release to those who might use them to register their own products without compensating the owners; issues with regard to EPA’s reliance under the proposed rule on these registrant generated and FIFRA required studies will need to be carefully considered carefully. As another example, EPA’s review of epidemiology data underlying its conclusions regarding chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticide requirements potentially may be subject to more stringent requirements than they previously were. Registrants should review the proposed rule carefully and monitor closely developments relating to it.