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EPA ices plan to limit how many health-related studies can be considered in forming regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency has put on ice a proposal that would limit the number of health-related studies the agency can consider when drafting regulations — a rule critics worried would loosen health protections in agency policies.

The proposal was championed by then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, who lost his job amid a lengthy list of ethics investigations. The current acting administrator, Scott Wheeler, has sounded less enthusiastic about it.

The Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule would block the agency from considering scientific studies where the underlying data is not made public. While publishing data is common in many branches of science, health-related scientists are subject to patient privacy restrictions and may not publish the raw data.

That concerned science advocates such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, which said the rule would require agency employees “to put on blinders and only see the science that they want them to see.”

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said on Wednesday the proposal is a “long-term action” and that the EPA does not expect to finalize it “within the next 12 months.”

The agency said it received more than 597,000 comments on the proposal, and that it did not want to rush the review.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the regulatory process, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shortly after Wheeler took the reins of the EPA, he said in an interview that he wanted “to move forward” on the issue, but the final rule might not “look exactly like the proposal.”

“That was proposed before I got here. I’m going to take a hard look at it,” he told the publication E&E News. “But fundamentally, I do believe that the more information you put out to the public, the better the regulatory decisions will be and the better understood the regulatory decisions will be by the public.”

The administration’s approach to science has drawn the attention of the EPA inspector general, who announced in August a study of the “extent and type of employee concerns, if any, with scientific integrity.”

By Ellie Kaufman and Gregory Wallace, CNN