3 march 2021

Interior Department reverses Trump policy that it says improperly restricted science

By Rachel Frazin The Hill 03/03/21

The Interior Department on Wednesday reversed a Trump policy that the Biden administration says “improperly restricted" the department's use of science and data.

Similar to what became known as the “secret science” rule at the Environmental Protection Agency, a 2018 Interior Department order limited the agency’s use of studies that are not supported by publicly available data.

At the time, the Trump administration billed the measure as promoting transparency and open science, but critics argued that it created unnecessary barriers to using studies based on sound data.

In a new order on Wednesday, acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega revoked the previous order and directed a review of all actions taken under it.

Specifically, he ordered the science integrity officer in each of the department’s offices or bureaus to provide a report on all actions where compliance with the Trump order “was determinative in the outcome or decision” within 90 days.

He said that these reports should include plans to “reverse or alter, if necessary, each such action.”

De la Vega’s new order called for the department to ban political interference in scientific research, prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific findings and support scientists of all genders, races, ethnicities and backgrounds.

“Science is at the heart of Interior’s mission – from protecting endangered species to conducting environmental assessments for energy projects,” Tanya Trujillo, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science, said in a statement.

“Today’s Order puts the evaluation and decision-making authority regarding scientific information back where it should be: in the hands of the scientists,” Trujillo said.

The similar policy at EPA was done through the rulemaking process, but was recently struck down in court.

The department's move was met with some Republican criticism.

“The Biden administration is slamming the door shut on transparent rules and regulations,” said a statement from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “Since the American people bear the costs of Washington red tape, they deserve to have access to the science behind government regulations."

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