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Court Ruling Ends Controversial EPA Rule

February 5, 2021

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CONTACTS
Heather Pierce, Sr. Director, Science Policy & Regulatory Counsel

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will no longer be bound by a Jan. 5, 2020, final rule seeking to limit the scientific evidence the agency would be allowed to consider after a U.S. District Court ruled on Feb. 1 that the agency did not have the authority to promulgate that rule or to make it effective immediately [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 12].

The rule as issued would have required the EPA to give less weight to published scientific studies for which the underlying data were not publicly available. This abrupt end to the controversial rule concludes a multiyear process including a proposed rule in 2018 for which over 500,000 public comments were submitted. The AAMC opposed the rule in its entirety and recommended that the proposal be withdrawn in 2018 in a joint letter with the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations [see Washington Highlights, July 13, 2018]. The same group opposed a supplemental notice of proposed rule-making in May 2020 [see Washington Highlights, May 22, 2020].

Such a directive, noted the associations in the May 2020 letter, would undermine the value or merit of peer-reviewed science, which is not determined by the public availability of the underlying research data, and would “tie the agency’s hands indefinitely.”

The court’s ruling technically vacates the rule and returns it to the agency to be rewritten. Since the Biden administration has indicated that it agrees with the scientific groups that filed the initial challenge against the EPA, the rule is not expected to be revised and re-proposed in any form.

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