Trump agencies steadily push rollbacks as pandemic rages

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Trump administration is steadily pushing major public health and environmental rollbacks toward enactment, rejecting appeals that it slow its deregulatory drive while Americans grapple with the pandemic. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Trump administration is steadily pushing major public health and environmental rollbacks toward enactment, rejecting appeals that it slow its deregulatory drive while Americans grapple with the pandemic. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 food and medicine 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 opponents say 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 email. “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," Healey said.

Asked for comment, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency is “open and continuing our regulatory work as usual."

Jones said that the public can still have its say on the proposed rule. “As regulations.gov is fully functioning, there is no barrier to the public providing comment," Jones said.