EPA Will Not Appeal on Advisory Boards

Agency Leaves Open Possibility of Limiting Board Makeup to Grant Recipients

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The EPA will not appeal a recent court decision striking down efforts by the agency to restrict membership on science advisory boards. (DTN photo by Emily Unglesbee)

OMAHA (DTN) -- EPA will not appeal a federal court ruling invalidating the agency's directive banning scientists from serving on scientific advisory boards if they hold agency grants.

In addition, according to an EPA news release on Wednesday, the agency will not change the current makeup of the science advisory boards.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in February 2020 the agency policy changed by EPA when Scott Pruitt was administrator violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

In 2017, Pruitt issued a directive stating scientists who received EPA grants no longer would be able to serve on the agency's scientific advisory boards.

At the time, EPA did an evaluation of grant funds awarded during the previous 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.

The agency said in a statement on Wednesday the court's decision does not prevent EPA from creating future restrictions on who can serve on such committees.

"The decision not to appeal the SDNY judgment was made in light of a related decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued in April," the agency said.

"Based on that subsequent decision, EPA has determined that any blanket prohibition on the participation of EPA grant recipients as special government employees in EPA advisory committees should be promulgated as a supplemental ethics regulation with the concurrence of the Office of Government Ethics."

In April 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sided with the Physicians for Social Responsibility which argued the EPA requirement was arbitrary and capricious, conflicted with several statutes and regulations governing advisory committees and was a shift in policy that EPA failed to explain.

At the time of the Pruitt announcement, Democratic members of Congress expressed concern he was attempting to silence some scientists.

The directive said the policy was designed to strengthen the independence of members of the committees; to increase state, tribal and local government participation; to enhance geographic diversity on the committees and to promote "fresh" perspectives.

Groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists said the agency's directive would harm independent science.

The directive received support from the American Petroleum Institute, who claimed the change returned EPA to its original mission.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley