“A n y
can reject our
advice, but we
are part of the
EPA data rule questioned
Independent science board will review decisions by the US environment agency to repeal or
change climate regulations and rules on the use of non-public data.
BY JEFF TOLLEFSON
cience advisers to the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) voted on
31 May to review a series of controver-
sial rules that the agency has proposed over
the past eight months. These include a plan
that would limit the types of scientific research
that the EPA could use to justify environmen-
tal regulations, and proposals to strike down
limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt framed the
data rule as part of a push for transparency —
and against ‘secret science’ — when he released
it on 24 April. The policy would prevent the
EPA from relying on studies that include any
data that have not been made public.
The decision by the EPA Science Advisory
Board (SAB) to review the rule comes after
earlier criticism by some of its members. In
a 12 May memorandum, an SAB working
group chastised the EPA for not submitting
the proposal to the board for review.
“The working group is very much in
favour of transparency,” said Alison Cullen,
an environmental-health researcher at the
University of Washington in Seattle, during
the advisory board’s meeting. But on this
particular proposal, there is a “very real lack
of clarity” in how the rule would be applied,
said Cullen, who chairs the working group.
The proposed transparency rule is modelled
on a similar bill that Republican lawmakers in
the House of Representatives have pushed for
years. The House passed the latest version of
the legislation in 2017, but it died in the Senate.
Scientists and environmentalists have
decried the EPA’s proposal, noting that many
important epidemiological studies are based
on public-health data that cannot legally
be released owing to privacy concerns. As a
result, critics say, such a rule would prevent
the agency from considering some of the best
health research, ultimately making it harder to
create new environmental regulations.
Under previous presidents, the EPA has
typically given the SAB advanced notice of
regulatory actions, such as the release of a pro-
posed rule, although that is not required by law.
This week’s meeting was the first time that the
full panel had considered the transparency rule.
The EPA is not required to follow the advice of
its advisory board, but failing to do so could
bolster legal challenges against the agency.
The environment agency has yet to finalize
the transparency rule: the deadline for public
comments, originally scheduled to close on
30 May, has been extended to 16 August.
The science-advisory board also voted to
assess the research underlying a series of pro-
posed regulations to limit greenhouse-gas
emissions from power plants, vehicles, and oil
and gas operations. That includes a review of
the research behind Pruitt’s decision to repeal
the Clean Power Plan. The plan sought to
reduce carbon emissions from existing power
plants and was former president Barack Oba
ma’s signature climate-change policy. The
advisers also intend to look over a decision
made by the EPA in April to revoke emissions
standards for vehicles manufactured between
2022 and 2025.
Separate emissions standards set by the
state of California, and followed by a dozen
other states, would remain in place; California
officials have warned
that they will fight
any attempt by Pruitt
to revoke a waiver
that allows the state
to set its own regula-
tions in this regard.
The EPA has yet to
propose new standards to replace the Clean
Power Plan or the Obama administration’s
The advisers did what they were supposed
to do, said board member Steven Hamburg,
chief scientist for the Environmental Defense
Fund, an advocacy group based in New York
City. “The SAB is a congressionally chartered
organization,” he said. “Any administration
can reject our advice, but we are part of the
BY GIORGIA GUGLIELMI
luggish hurricanes have become increas-
ingly common over the past 70 years,
according to a new study. Storms that lin
ger over a given area for longer periods, such as
Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over eastern
Texas for almost a week in August 2017, bring
more rain and have greater potential to cause
damage than ones that pass quickly. Scientists
are not sure why this is happening, but if the
trend continues, future hurricanes could be
even more disastrous.
The study, published this week in Nature
is the first to analyse hurricane speeds glob-
ally. It finds that the speed at which tropical
cyclones moved across the planet slowed by
about 10% between 1949 and 2016: from more
than 19 kilometres per hour on average in
1949, to about 17 kilometres per hour in 2016.
Over land, cyclones affecting regions along
the western North Pacific slowed by 30%;
over Australia and areas in or near the North
Atlantic, they slowed by about 20%.
“That’s a big signal,” says study author James
Kossin, a climate scientist at the US National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
(NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Meteoro-
logical Satellite Studies in Madison, Wisconsin.
Research suggested that atmospheric circula-
tion patterns in the tropics might be slowing
as a result of global warming, so Kossin set out
to see whether hurricanes, which are carried
along by these wind currents, have also slowed.
Because storms are becoming more sluggish,
there’s more time for rain to fall. Kossin notes
that a 10% reduction in hurricane speed cor-
responds to a 10% increase in the amount of
rainfall over a given area. The effect could be
magnified by a warming climate, because
Hurricanes around the
world linger longer
This means more rain and possibly more damage from storms.
7 JUNE 2018 | VOL 558 | NATURE | 15
IN FOCUS NEWS