Scientists who have received grants from the U.S. EPA can no longer serve on the agency’s scientific advisory boards. The change comes as the result of a directive from EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
In his announcement of the change, Pruitt stresses the move will strengthen the independence of committee members, removing politics from the process. Not everyone agrees that’s the goal nor that it will be the outcome.
The change comes after an EPA evaluation of grant funds awarded during the past three years. The agency found members of the Science Advisory Board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the Board of Scientific Counselors received up to $77 million in EPA grants while serving on those committees.
“Whatever science comes out of EPA shouldn’t be political science,” Pruitt said when he announced the change. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency.”
The directive, notes the new policy, is designed to strengthen independence of committee members; to increase state, tribal and local government participation; to enhance geographic diversity on committees; and to promote fresh perspectives.
Pruitt appointed three scientists to head the boards and committees. Michael Honeycutt, head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, was appointed to lead EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer at Covanta Energy, was appointed to head the EPA Board of Scientific Advisers. Consultant Tony Cox was charged to lead the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee.
Calling Foul. The changes at the EPA are not seen as a positive at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In a written statement, Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the UCS, says the agency’s move will harm independent science.
“Administrator Scott Pruitt has made it clear that he has no interest in following the science and doing the job of protecting the public set out for him by law,” Rosenberg says.
“The EPA’s science advisory boards are supposed to be composed of the best experts in the field, putting their knowledge and skills to work on behalf of the public. Pruitt broke with precedent by refusing to renew the terms of several board members, and his choices to fill open slots are, in many cases, opposed to the laws the EPA enforces and financed by the industries the EPA oversees. This opens the door to political interference in science and, ultimately, puts us all at risk.”
Silencing Science. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) note in statements they are concerned the current administration may be trying to silence some scientists.
“Scott Pruitt’s latest move to reject qualified scientists to make room for industry-sponsored individuals isn’t fooling anyone. Since he arrived at the agency, Mr. Pruitt has repeatedly worked to silence EPA scientists, deny the facts and discredit science inconvenient to his agenda; now he’s trying to get rid of agency access to scientific advice altogether,” Carper says.
Howard Feldman, senior director for regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, says in a statement the EPA changes were welcome news for this country’s energy producers.
“Smart, science-based regulations are essential to our nation meeting its energy and environmental needs well into the future,” Feldman says.
FreedomWorks Foundation director of policy Patrick Hedger adds in a statement the move is a return to the agency’s original intent.
“Anyone studying the issue of regulatory reform knows how agencies like the EPA have been able to overwhelm even regulatory watchdogs within government through their ability to fund research that meets their political objectives,” he stresses. “This directive will go a long way towards bringing EPA back with the bounds of its Congressional mandate.”
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