Embattled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed a rule Tuesday designed to change how future environmental regulations are promulgated by restricting the agency to using publicly-available scientific research.
Meanwhile, Pruitt, facing mounting calls to resign or be fired, said he is "committed to helping provide future generations with a cleaner and healthier environment," according to written testimony filed Wednesday -- one day before he is scheduled to testify before two powerful House panels, ostensibly to discuss EPA's budget for FY 2019.
During a press conference Tuesday, Pruitt called the proposed rule "the third leg of the stool" as it pertains to how the agency handles rulemaking.
"As we look at the rules that we adopt as an agency, the American people ought to be able to have confidence, assurance that the findings, the record that we build, can be assessed, it can be evaluated, it can be analyzed by those that are offering comments to us in rulemaking," Pruitt said.
"When you have studies that you actually publish from third parties, but you don't publish the methodology and you don't publish the data, you only publish the conclusions? That presents problems to those that want to offer comment on the veracity, the authenticity, the ability to assess and evaluate the conclusions that have been drawn.
"That's simply wrong-headed, to have that kind of approach. But that's what we've done here at the agency for a number of years."
According to Pruitt, the other two "legs" were his decision last May to dismiss several members of EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, a key scientific advisory panel, and ensuring that the agency doesn't engage in "sue-and-settle" practices, aka "regulation through litigation." The latter also drew the ire of Congress last year.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight, took the dais before Pruitt and applauded him "for taking steps to inject transparency into the EPA's processes.
"Today's directive is a significant step forward toward making certain EPA regulations are not made behind closed doors with information accessible only to those writing the regulations, but rather will be made in full view of the American people," Rounds said.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, also spoke before Pruitt and said the proposed rule "ensures that data will be secret no more.
"For too long, the EPA has issued rules and regulations based on data that has been withheld from the American people," Smith said. He added that Pruitt "rightfully is changing business as usual and putting a stop to hidden agendas."
Smith also touched on last year's consideration of House Resolution (HR) 1430, aka the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017, which called for prohibiting EPA "from proposing, finalizing or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible." HR 1430 passed the House on a 228-194 vote in March 2017.
Environmental groups blasted the proposed rule. Sierra Club spokeswoman Liz Perera called it "just another example of Pruitt siding with polluters over doctors, public health advocates, and parents groups.
"Thousands of people will suffer from Pruitt's decision today, but tragically, the only thing Pruitt seems to care about is the next favor polluting industries can do for him...and vice versa."
Perera's comment was a veiled reference to several scandals surrounding Pruitt. Last week, the Government Accountability Office said the EPA violated federal law when it installed a soundproof privacy booth in Pruitt's office, a luxury that cost taxpayers more than $43,000. According to reports, a growing number of lawmakers, including Republicans, have called for Pruitt to be fired or resign.
In a note to clients earlier this month, analysts with ClearView Energy Partners said they "would not purport to know whether or when" President Trump might ask Pruitt to resign.
"That said, the unflattering tenor and unflagging nature of negative media coverage suggests that Pruitt could soon join the recent spate of departing senior administration officials," ClearView said on April 6. "If so, could his departure shift the agency's focus or change the pace, nature or details of its current deregulatory agenda?
"Our short answer is: in most cases, probably, especially when it comes to the choice between accommodative rewrites of existing to provide greater stability for regulated parties and rescinding Obama-era regulation outright."
Pruitt showed no outward sign of resigning, at least according to written testimony he submitted on Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear before the House Subcommittee on Environment at 10 a.m. Thursday, followed by a 2 p.m. hearing of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environmental and Related Agencies. The former subcommittee is under the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while the latter is under the House Appropriations Committee.
"We will continue to work collaboratively with state, tribal and local governments to provide flexibility to address important priorities," Pruitt wrote in his comments for the earlier hearing. "I personally look forward to working with you all, and other members of Congress, to ensure we meet the environmental needs of your communities."