WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is rejecting appeals to slow its deregulatory drive while Americans grapple with the coronavirus, pushing major public health and environmental rollbacks closer to enactment in recent days, despite the pandemic.
As Americans stockpiled and retreated indoors and businesses shuttered in hopes of riding out COVID-19, federal agencies in recent days moved forward on rollbacks that included a widely opposed deregulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The proposed rule would require disclosure of the raw data behind any scientific study used in the rulemaking process. That includes confidential medical records that could be used to identify people.
The EPA says the rule, first introduced in 2018, is designed to increase transparency. But early drafts drew more than a half-million comments, most of them in opposition. Health experts say it would handcuff federal officials’ ability to regulate proven health threats in the future, by making it impossible for regulators to draw on findings of public health studies.
The EPA has dismissed demands from 14 attorneys general, the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities and dozens of other government, public health and environmental groups and officials that it at least tap the brakes on that proposed rule while officials confront “the national emergency that arises from the COVID-19 pandemic.’’
Federal agencies should suspend steps toward enactment for any nonessential rule changes, Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, one of those signing the appeal, said in a separate e-mail. “During this unprecedented public health emergency, we should be focusing our resources on protecting the health and well being of our residents not on fighting against the Trump Administration’s reckless environmental proposals and actions.”
A spokeswoman said the EPA is “open and continuing our regulatory work as usual.’’
President Trump and his agency chiefs have less than 10 months left in his current term to complete the administration’s business-friendly easing of the way the federal government enforces scores of environmental and public health protections.
The Interior Department, for example, is moving ahead with a measure that would greatly ease protections in the more than century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Interior closed the 30-day comment period for the change as scheduled last week. Critics say the changes could devastate threatened and endangered species and speed an already documented decline in US bird populations overall.
Interior spokesman Conner Swanson called it “unfortunate that these interest groups are playing politics at a time when all Americans need to come together.’’
Opponents also say they expect the White House to make public as soon as next week the latest version of its rollback in vehicle emissions standards, weakening one of the Obama administration’s major efforts against climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions.
The ongoing push on rule-cutting as most of the world deals with the coronavirus shows the Environmental Protection Agency “clearly in a hurry to meet procedural rules” to wrap up key rollbacks, said Stan Meiburg, the agency’s acting deputy administrator from 2014 to 2017 and a 39-year EPA veteran.