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New rules could govern which scientific studies the Department of the Interior allows to inform its efforts to manage some 200 million hectares of land, including national parks like Yosemite.

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Interior Department moves to impose new rules on use of science in decision-making

Originally published by E&E News

The Interior Department is moving closer to further entrench a policy that it calls “Promoting Open Science” but that critics call misguided and political.

Following up on a secretarial order issued in October 2018, department officials are in the process of developing a formal rule governing the use of science.

“The proposed rule will ensure the Department bases its decisions on the best available science and provides the American people with enough information to thoughtfully and substantively evaluate the data, methodology and analysis used by the Department to inform its decisions,” Interior spokesperson Conner Swanson said in a statement today.

The Trump administration’s semiannual Unified Agenda of pending regulatory actions made note last November of a potential “Promoting Open Science” rule in the pipeline, and an article today in The Hill called attention to the issue.

“This proposed rule is intended to implement the direction provided in Secretary’s Order 3369,” the Unified Agenda stated.

The administration’s spring 2019 Unified Agenda also included work on an open science rule, with an estimated publication date of December 2019 for a notice of proposed rulemaking. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs records show it was submitted for review Feb. 13.

“This rule is part of a pattern by agencies in this administration to sideline science,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said in an email. “It purely serves the desires of big industry rather than the public interest.”

The Interior order that would be the basis for a rule stated that the department “should utilize and prioritize publicly available, reproducible, peer reviewed science to the extent possible” (E&E News PM, Oct. 1, 2018).

All of the department’s contracts, grants and cooperative agreements will permit the agency to publicly release associated data, analysis, methodology and other related information under the order.

“The department has an obligation to the American people to ensure that decisions are based on the best available science,” the order states, adding that it will “ensure that the American people have sufficient information about what their government is doing to assess where it is coming from and correct us when we err.”

Skeptics fear the policy could curtail use of research that requires confidentiality for health or other data.

Interior’s new “open science” policy resembles an EPA proposal titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” by administration officials and cast as the “secret science” directive by others.

The EPA proposal would effectively bar EPA from using specific studies for developing new regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation,” according to the text.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2020. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net