This past Thursday, ten Democratic senators asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate a new directive issued by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Implemented on Oct. 31, the directive restricts any scientist who has received EPA funding from serving on the agency’s scientific advisory panels. In a letter sent to the GAO on Thursday, the senators described the directive as a boon to corporate interests as it has strengthened “the voice of industry-funded scientists.”
Although Pruitt claims the purging of independent (meaning separate from the chemical, agricultural, and fossil fuel companies) researchers was necessary to ensure the board was made up of “objective, independent-minded” scientists who would provide “transparent recommendations”, the exact opposite is true. Shortly after this directive was announced, The Washington Post reported that Pruitt appointed 66 new members to advisory panels, a substantial number of them with ties to industries the agency regulates. The senators discussed this hypocrisy in this excerpt:
“Under this new policy, the EPA will be replacing representatives of public and private universities including Harvard, Stanford, Ohio State University and the University of Southern California with scientists who work for Phillips 66, Total, Southern Company, and the American Chemistry Council.The double-standard is striking: an academic scientist that receives an EPA grant for any purpose cannot provide independent advice on a completely different subject matter on any of EPA’s science advisory boards while industry scientists are presumed to have no inherent conflict even if their research is entirely funded by a company with a financial stake in an advisory board’s conclusions.”
This action taken by Pruitt is similar to the GOP bill introduced earlier this year called the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act.
The Trump administration has made it perfectly clear how much they value the input of independent academics and scientists. Earlier this year, the White House proposed slashing funding for the Science Advisory Board by 84 percent. Such a cut would have undercut the work of the 47-member board of outside scholars. In addition, the agency quietly forced out half of the members of the Board of Scientific Counselors, a majority of whom were invested in climate change research. In August, the charter for the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment (an advisory panel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) expired without renewal.
This move represents a fundamental shift away from the scientific and technical advice that has historically formed the agency’s environmental decisions. While Pruitt takes dozens of meetings with top executives from the industries the EPA is supposed to regulate and appoints their cronies to public office, the American people will suffer.
Photo: Gage Skidmore