President Donald Trump, Congress, and the entire federal government is focused on winning the battle against the coronavirus, but the New York Times is reporting on unnamed sources who claim the president’s efforts to lift regulations that have stifled American prosperity could spell trouble when the next pandemic comes along.
The Times says the Trump administration’s efforts include “a restriction on scientific research that some doctors worry would complicate future pandemic controls,” but no link to documentation of that restriction is provided and no doctor is named or quoted.
Other regulations the Times reports are underway to be reversed involve vehicle fuel efficiency standards, “which one person familiar with the plans said would be issued as early as next week.”
Other regulations set to be undone include restrictions on coal plants and not including climate change in environmental reviews.
The Times reports the Trump administration’s efforts are because the end of his presidency is in the offing:
The aggressive timeline is aimed at shielding the policies from easy reversal if Democrats win the White House or control of the Senate in the 2020 election. While it is hardly unusual to see a push to finalize policies toward the end of an administration, several agency officials said they were surprised that political leaders had shown no sign of letting up amid the pandemic.
A dozen federal workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about agency work, all described a relentless atmosphere at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Several people said they had been told to expect no “slippage” or relaxation of deadlines, although thousands of federal employees, like much of the nation, are working from home and juggling child care and work responsibilities.
With an election looming, the urgency of completing regulations is real. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can overturn a regulation or federal rule within 60 days of it being finalized. If Democrats win control of the White House and Senate in November, and keep control of the House, any rule completed after late May or early June would be vulnerable.
“The administration understands the electoral map has turned against it,” Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University, said in the Times report.
Officials at the EPA and the Interior Department are said to be “sensitive” to how the coronavirus outbreak affects business as usual, but “the administration remained focused on doing its job.”
“We understand that Covid-19 has caused disruption in the lives of many Americans, but it is our duty to the American people to ensure we are continuing our work toward protecting human health and the environment,” Andrea Woods, an EPA spokeswoman, said in the Times report.
The Times found a source to say the Trump administration is taking advantage of the health crisis to achieve its agenda.
“The administration is essentially taking advantage of the fact that the public is distracted and in fact disabled from fully engaging against this ideological push,” claimed David J. Hayes, director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, which fights for a leftist environmental agenda.
The Times reports that the EPA is limiting “the types of scientific studies the agency can use” related to public health policies.
But as Breitbart News reported, according to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, his agency is working to be more transparent than ever.
“If we used a scientific study [to back actions the EPA takes] it has to be made available to the public,” Wheeler said at the American Conservative Union’s 2020 CPAC conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland in February.
Wheeler said in announcing the launch:
EPA has followed through on President Trump’s direction to streamline and improve the transparency of regulatory guidance issued by the agency. This new online database is a major milestone in government transparency. Never before has the American public had access to all of the Agency’s guidance documents. This initiative spearheaded by President Trump will finally provide sunlight to agency decisions.
“On October 9, 2019, President Trump issued Executive Order 13891, Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents, to promote transparency by ensuring that all active guidance documents are made available to the public,” the announcement said.
The Times condemns the move toward transparency, saying, “The agency has argued that science used to make regulations requires greater transparency. But almost every major scientific group has opposed the rule because key fields of research (for example, linking air pollution to premature deaths or the studying consequences of pesticide exposure) rely on personal health information from subjects who agree to participate in studies only if their data is kept confidential.”
The Times interviewed a doctor that speculated that this could be used to reject research related to the coronavirus.
“There will be an enormous amount of clinical data that will be collected on Covid-19 that might be excluded,” Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, said in the Times report, citing patient privacy.
Democrats argue that the rule should not be finalized during the pandemic, but Woods of the EPA disagrees.
“She called fears that the proposed rule would impede the E.P.A.’s ability to respond to emergencies like the coronavirus ‘unfounded,’” the Times reported.
“Our most important environmental statutes provide E.P.A. with authority to issue emergency orders or respond to address emergencies to protect human health and the environment,” Woods said, adding the science regulation “would not limit or impede E.P.A.’s authority to undertake such responses.”
The Times said the Department of Interior wants to end some protections for migratory birds and needed time for more public input but Conner Swanson, a spokesman for the department, says the proposed regulation codified an agency legal opinion from December 2017 and that people had sufficient time for feedback.
“The proposed rule was not a surprise to the public, as more than 46,000 comments were received on the proposal,” Swanson said.
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter