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Harvard President Opposes Proposed EPA Rule Restricting Research

Drew Faust
President of Harvard University Drew Faust addresses an audience, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, at a forum called Harvard Students Speak Up: A Town Hall on Politics and Public Service, at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass.
Steven Senne/AP

Outgoing Harvard President Drew Faust is protesting a proposed requirement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that raw data used in studies be made public.

In a letter to EPA head Scott Pruitt, Faust writes that evidence-based research often relies on medical records and patient health data and that such studies are required by law to protect patient confidentiality.

“This proposed rule, which would significantly limit the EPA’s ability to consider the best available scientific findings, is fundamentally flawed and risks not just erosion of the public trust in the EPA’s important work, but also progress on improving the health and well-being of our communities and our nation,” Faust said.

The proposed rule, Faust goes on, would effectively disqualify regulators from considering science based on patient data. As an example, she cites Harvard's landmark 1993 study showing a strong link between air pollution and life expectancy.

“The study, and others that followed, served as the basis for federal regulations that have reduced fine particulate matter in the air we breathe,” Faust said.

Pruitt has argued that the proposed rule is all about transparency, labeling any research that would be kept from the public as "secret science."

In her letter, Faust dismisses that idea, characterizing it not as "secret science" but "responsible science."

When the EPA first proposed the rule in April, the American Association for the Advancement of Science said it was Pruitt's latest attempt to reject valid scientific evidence and, if adopted, it would prevent the EPA from using a wide range of high-quality research.

“Any regulation to protect the environment and us will have less science to rely on and that’s a dangerous thing,” said Sean Gallaguer, a senior government relations officer with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Gallaguer said the rule would greatly limit the studies the EPA can cite.

"For instance, lead in paint or pesticides used in crops or chemicals used for fracking — all of these things require scientists to research the kinds of effects, harmful or not, that these chemicals will have on the environment and on humans,” Gallaguer said.

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