OMAHA (DTN) -- Scientists who have received grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency no longer will be able to serve on the agency's scientific advisory boards, as a result of a directive issued by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday.
Pruitt made the announcement during a press event closed to the media and attended by scientists and members of Congress at EPA headquarters.
The EPA did an evaluation of grant funds awarded during the past three years. The agency found the members of the Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the Board of Scientific Counselors received up to $77 million in EPA grants while serving on the committees.
"Whatever science comes out of EPA, shouldn't be political science," Pruitt said during the announcement. "From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency."
The directive, http://bit.ly/…, said the policy is designed to strengthen independence of members of the committees, to increase state, tribal, and local government participation, enhance geographic diversity on the committees, and to promote "fresh" perspectives.
"With these improvements to EPA's federal advisory committees, the agency is taking another step to provide the public with a better, more-effective government," the directive said.
Pruitt also announced the appointment of three scientists to head the boards and committees. Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, was appointed to lead EPA's Science Advisory Board; Paul Gilman, the chief sustainability officer at Covanta Energy, was appointed to head the EPA Board of Scientific Advisers; and consultant Tony Cox was charged to lead the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee.
Pruitt said so far he has received 430 applicants to serve on the Board of Scientific Advisers, 130 to the Science Advisory Board and 32 to the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee.
The agency is expected to post a list of members in the coming days.
In a written statement, Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the agency's move would harm independent science.
"Today, 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 said.
"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 funded by the industries the EPA oversees. This opens the door to political interference in science and, ultimately, puts us all at risk.
"Pruitt's abrupt dismissal of members who have received EPA grants to fund their research is especially unsettling. These grants don't come with strings. They're meant to help promote the best independent science in a variety of fields."
Democratic Sens. Tom Carper, Delaware, and Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island, said in statements they are concerned the 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 said.
Said Whitehouse, "Scott Pruitt's battle against science continues. He's trying to restock the EPA's science panels with industry hacks; hacks who fill their days churning out phony, made-to-order science for big polluters."
Howard Feldman, senior director for regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement the EPA changes were welcomed for energy producers.
"Smart, science-based regulations are essential to our nation meeting its energy and environmental needs well into the future," Feldman said. "Administrator Pruitt's actions today advance the administration's commitment to promoting American energy production, transportation, refining, and use while protecting the environment."
FreedomWorks Foundation Director of Policy Patrick Hedger said in a statement the agency's 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 said.
"Research is supposed to direct regulation, not the other way around. This directive will go a long way towards bringing EPA back with the bounds of its Congressional mandate."
Watch the Pruitt announcement here: https://www.youtube.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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