The New EPA Anti-Science Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the finalization of an anti-science rule that amounts to the last gasp of a failed administration. The rule titled, Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information, limits what research the federal agency can use to set public health policy. It is a rule that the federal agency’s scientists advised against. 

The rule restricts the EPA’s use of key scientific studies when it considers taking regulatory action on pollution and toxic chemicals. The rule requires the federal agency to publish all data they use to craft regulations. The trouble is that some of the best studies tend to not make their underlying data public to protect confidential information about study participants.

Disingenuous reasoning of EPA Anti-Science Rule

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims that the intent behind the rule is to bring transparency. “I fundamentally believe that the American public has a right to know about EPA’s regulations and their scientific underpinnings,” he said in a statement. “Increased transparency has strengthened the Agency’s credibility with the public in the past, and I intend for this rule to do the same as we move forward.”

“The people pushing it are claiming it’s in the interest of science, but the entire independent science world says it’s not,” Chris Zarba, a former director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, told The Washington Post. “It sounds good on the surface. But this is a bold attempt to get science out of the way so special interests can do what they want.”

“That EPA leadership has overruled the input of the scientific community, the voices of environmental justice advocates, and simple common sense to push this rule is beyond disappointing,” said Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s a deliberate refusal to protect people’s lives.”

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) told The Hill the rule is “one last gasp of science denial” before the Biden administration is sworn in.” Indeed, the rule occurred under a president on his way out, who still faces the possibility of being impeached. 

Andrew Wheeler’s giveaway to toxic polluters 

The new rule amounts to a giveaway to toxic polluters by Wheeler, a former lobbyist whose clients included Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S. While working as a lobbyist for Faegre Baker Daniels, Wheeler’s firm earned more than $3 million in income from Murray Energy, according to EcoWatch. Wheeler served as vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a pro-coal nonprofit, while still working at Faegre Baker Daniels. 

Murray Energy created an “Action Plan” on eliminating the Clean Power Plan, eliminating tax credits for solar and wind energy, and eliminating the endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. This occurred while Murray Energy was still Wheeler’s client, and he admitted to knowing about the plan during his confirmation hearing. 

The deregulatory swamp needs cleaning

When Joseph Biden takes office on January 20, he will be handed an environmental deregulation nightmare. It will be up to him to craft regulations and policies overturning Trump’s giveaways to fossil fuel companies. Overturning this new rule needs to be at the top of Biden’s list. As Liz Perera, Sierra Club’s Climate Policy Director, said, “We urge the Biden Administration to quickly work toward overturning it so that the EPA will once again be a science and public health-focused agency.”

EPA Defies Court Order to Halt the Use of Dicamba

President Trump’s administration demonstrated its complete disregard for the environment and human health in a myriad of ways. One of those ways involved disregarding a court order regarding an herbicide called dicamba.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered two dicamba products and extended the registration for another dicamba product for applications on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans. The decision allows dicamba to be in use from 2021 to 2025. Both products will expire in December 2025 “unless the EPA takes further action to amend the registration,” according to the federal agency’s announcement

The EPA’s decision to register dicamba ignores a court order on June 3, 2020 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the use of dicamba. The court cited the EPA’s failure to acknowledge the risks the herbicide poses to the environment and conventional crops. On June 8, the EPA told growers they could continue using dicamba until July 31. 

First registered in 1967, dicamba is a widely used herbicide in the U.S. It is used on crops, pastures, fallow land, turfgrass, and rangeland to kill weeds. The herbicide is also registered for use in residential areas and other non-agricultural sites. Over 1,000 products sold in the U.S. include dicamba. 

“Protecting the pesticide industry has been a top priority of the EPA during the Trump administration,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “Millions of acres of crops will continue to be damaged, and the health of farmworkers, children, and all those who live near farms where dicamba is used will be at risk – all in the name of appeasing chemical agriculture.”

Environmental, health effects of dicamba herbicide

The EPA claims it “conducted robust evaluations of the risks to human health and the environment.” Yet its decision to register three forms of dicamba shows it ignored the scientific evidence that the herbicide poses environmental and health threats. One of the environmental problems dicamba causes is pesticide drift. Older versions of dicamba caused pesticide drift so they were typically not used much during warm months when they could kill trees or other crops. In 2016, the EPA approved the registration of new formulations of dicamba that allowed for “over-the-top” applications on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean plants. 

Scientists warned that the over-the-top applications would cause damage from drift. Complaints about drift damage have increased in several farm states since the introduction of the new applications. In 2017, the EPA tallied 2,708 official dicamba-related crop injury investigations, with 3.6 million acres of soybeans affected. 

Dicamba is a threat to monarch butterflies. The Center for Biological Diversity found that the timing and the geographical distribution of dicamba use coincide with areas where monarch eggs and caterpillars are found on milkweed. The herbicide degrades milkweed which adult monarchs rely on for nectar. As monarchs travel south for the winter, nectar is their only food source. One percent of the minimum dicamba application rate is enough to reduce the size of milkweed by 50 percent. 

The EPA ignores its own evidence that dicamba presents a risk to human health. A 2016 study by the federal agency found that the biggest health risk from either drinking water or dicamba residue on food is found within children one to two years old. 

There are studies linking dicamba use with cancer and thyroid problems. The most recent study found a higher risk of liver, intrahepatic bile duct cancer, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A 2010 study found a strong association between dicamba and cancer among those who applied it, while a 2001 study found an association between dicamba and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Dicamba is linked to thyroid problems. A 2018 study found a significantly increased risk between dicamba and hypothyroidism. Another study done five years prior found “increased odds” of hypothyroidism and dicamba.

What you can do

While it is highly unlikely the Trump administration will halt the use of dicamba, a new administration takes office in January. Start tweeting to Joe Biden and demand that his administration ban the over-the-top applications of dicamba. 


Image by Peter Miller on Flickr