By Christine Todd Whitman
April 27, 2018
Scott Pruitt’s ethical tone deafness has, ironically, come across loud and clear. The rule he signed this week targeting what he called “secret science” serves as yet further evidence of his inability to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with ethical integrity. In fact, the new rule is a surefire way to kill science at the agency as it de-incentivizes the private sector to share proprietary studies with the EPA.
This may sound counterintuitive and does not fit within the sound bite media culture in which we currently find ourselves. By touting “transparency” at the agency, the untrained observer might think he was doing something good for the future of the EPA and by extension, human health and the environment. But proprietary studies and scientific data from the private sector act as a balance for the agency’s scientific data. The EPA needs these studies to prove or disprove its own hypotheses and establish sound, well-informed regulations.
Regulations from the EPA are not based on politics (though I’d argue that Pruitt’s term as administrator has varnished the EPA in political bias). On the contrary, regulations from the EPA are rooted in science, and the agency needs sound scientific data — including proprietary studies — to make informed decisions and enact regulations that protect the environment and human health.
Pruitt’s proposed rule — requiring the EPA to publish the underlying scientific data used to support the studies that inform the agency’s clean air and clean water regulations — unleashes a host of issues. The rule will compromise patient privacy with regard to medical studies, and private sector companies will be deterred from sharing proprietary studies with the agency.
Most importantly, the EPA won’t be able to come forward with new regulations because they won’t have enough data. And that’s just what the administration wants. No new regulations. This idea of “open science” will actually shut down science. This rule will turn the agency on its head and render it completely ineffective, which poses an extraordinary threat to science, to the environment, and to human health at large. Contrary to what the current administration might like us to believe, the EPA’s regulations aren’t just red tape for businesses and industries; they’re enacted to protect the health of our citizens.
This new rule is just one of the many sound policies that Pruitt has dismantled as administrator of the EPA. He has revised authority for the Clean Water Act — taking what was previously in the hands of regional EPA administrators and consolidating in his office. He rolled back the Clean Power Plan, which was also aiming to reduce the very pollution that harms our most vulnerable citizens in particular. He lifted fuel economy and emissions standards that keep cars from further polluting our air. Pollution kills three times more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis put together and yet Pruitt is making it easier for automakers to pollute and American citizens to get sick.
In addition to his policy dismantling, Pruitt’s ethical lapses not only make him a questionable spokesperson, but also a detriment to the agency. His private phone booth creates an atmosphere of distrust. He sequesters himself, interacting only with a select group of people, and he doesn’t engage with staff. On one hand, Pruitt touts “open science” and on the other hand he fosters an environment of secrecy and distrust. Even the “secret science” rule was announced while limiting access to reporters and scientists at the event.
Scott Pruitt is unfit to run the EPA because he lacks ethical integrity — a quality that is of the utmost importance when entrusted with protecting the environment and public health.
Christine Todd Whitman is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. She previously served as the governor of New Jersey and now runs her own consulting firm. Follow her on Twitter at @GovCTW.