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Bacow, Harvard Faculty Sign Letter Opposing Suggested EPA Rule

Lawrence Bacow
University President Lawrence S. Bacow

University President Lawrence S. Bacow and several Harvard professors spoke out this week against an Environmental Protection Agency rule that proposes making scientific data public, co-signing a public letter that asserts the rule would sow “confusion and chaos.”

The letter, sent to acting EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler on Tuesday, criticizes a proposal dubbed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” Introduced in April 2018, that rule suggests the EPA should make all data used to support scientific studies that inform its regulations available to the public.

The letter’s signatories argue this proposal would “cripple” the EPA’s ability to rely on many scientific studies because such studies often include confidential patient data. If approved, the rule would disqualify these kinds of studies from EPA consideration, the letter states.

“Without the ability to protect and respect patient/human subject privacy and confidentiality, signatories and other researchers would not be able to conduct the studies that are pivotal to their work and to EPA’s ability to fulfill its statutory duty to protect public health,” the letter said.

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Harvard Law School Professor Wendy B. Jacobs wrote the letter on behalf of the Law School’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. She signed it along with Bacow, various Harvard professors, and doctors from several University schools and affiliated hospitals. 

The letter also asserts the new rule would prevent the EPA from using past studies for which data is no longer available, as well as some studies already incorporated into EPA policies. The signatories listed several studies the EPA relied on in the past that they claim contain protected health information.

In the final weeks of her term, former University President Drew G. Faust also penned a letter to then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decrying the proposed policy. In her letter, Faust called the suggestion “fundamentally flawed.”

Tuesday’s letter noted the proposed rule would break with years of precedent at the EPA.

“This proposed requirement contravenes five decades of EPA practice,” the letter reads. “[The] EPA has repeatedly affirmed that its mission requires it to rely on the best available scientific evidence, without ever asserting that it should exclude from consideration studies for which the underlying data were not publicly available.”

Jacobs and the other signatories submitted the letter near the close of the designated comment period for the proposed rule. That comment period ends August 16. 

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at Jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper

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