Environmental Protection Agency administrator and noted luxury travel enthusiast Scott Pruitt made a big announcement about his commitment to transparency on Tuesday. There was just one little hitch: The press wasn’t invited to attend.
Pruitt proposed a rule dubbed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which the agency said in a press release, “will ensure that the regulatory science underlying Agency actions is fully transparent, and that underlying scientific information is publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”
While there are serious problems with Pruitt’s proposal—more on those in a minute—you’d at least think the free press would be invited to attend the EPA chief’s ode to transparency. What could be more transparent than allowing the reporters to document this historic proposal?
“I asked Jahan Wilcox [if] I could attend this morning, and sent follow-up emails and texts,” Scott Waldman, a reporter with E&E News, told Earther. “They were ignored until the press office sent me the livestream link at about 1:30.”
Earther tuned into the 15-minute livestream, which (at least on our end) was glitchy and paused numerous times. It also, of course, did not allow for questions. When Earther contacted the EPA press office for comment, the agency sent the text but ignored requests about press access. Even EPA’s scientists haven’t reportedly had a look at the rule yet.
Instead, the guest list included prominent climate deniers, a former tobacco lobbyist, a physicist who has said climate scientists are “glassy-eyed cult” members, and Congressional Republicans who have championed legislation that the new proposed rule mirrors.
Bill Happer, a Princeton physicist who made the cult comment and was at one point under consideration to be Trump’s science advisor, could be seen talking on the livestream before the event officially began.
Marc Morano, who runs the climate denial site Climate Depot, got face time with Pruitt after the event, posting a picture with Pruitt on Twitter. Steve Milloy, another leading purveyor of climate denial and a longtime buddy of the tobacco industry also shared images of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) introducing Pruitt.
This is but the latest example of Pruitt stonewalling the press. During yesterday’s announcement that the EPA declared burning wood to be carbon neutral (it’s not), Pruitt flew to Georgia but didn’t let press know ahead of time. When he has done interviews, they’ve largely been with friendly outlets like The Daily Caller and its foundation. The EPA has also attacked individual reporters for reporting factual accurate information.
But this is perhaps the most egregious example of Pruitt’s press avoidance, given that he’s proposing a rule that pays lip service to transparency. And... about that.
The proposed rule would require the EPA to use science based solely on publicly available data. That’s a huge issue for studies on public health, which often involve confidential medical records. This isn’t “secret science” as Smith and Rounds have referred to it as. It’s good data management that prevents personal information from becoming publicly available. The rule could essentially invalidate decades of previous research, which is one reason virtually every major U.S. science organization has come out against it. It would also upend rules and regulations, which is probably the real goal here.
For years, Smith and Rounds have tried to pass a bill along these lines, but they’ve faced stiff resistance. Whether Pruitt’s proposal makes it through the review process is unclear.
Harvard environmental law professor Richard Lazarus also told the New York Times it would be equivalent to “walking into a judicial minefield.”