Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, took another step to reshape the independent boards that advise the agency on Scientific Tuesday. The recently announced directive prohibits scientists who receive EPA research grants from serving as science advisors to the agency. The move follows previous decisions to lay off some academic researchers in favor of greater representation from industry representatives.
In a press release, the EPA described the move to ensure that advisors are “independent and free from any real, apparent or potential interference with their ability to serve objectively as committee members.” Pruitt and some other conservative critics of environmental regulation have recently argued that scientists who have conducted EPA-funded research have a conflict of interest — that they are biased toward approving new regulatory efforts. “Whatever science comes out of EPA should not be political science,” Pruitt said in the agency’s press release.
Traditionally, the EPA viewed researchers who won grants for their work as experts — you’d hope an agency only gave money to scientists it thought were among the best. As such, they were also seen as valuable contributors who could judge the quality of the agency’s scientific analyses.
Pruitt also announced plans to replace some of the scientists he had previously disposed of. “In the spirit of cooperative federalism, Administrator Pruitt plans to appoint members who will significantly increase geographic diversity and state, tribal and local government participation on the committees,” the release explains.
According to The Washington Post, those appointees will include industry figures, environmental regulators from conservative states, and researchers known to be critical of the EPA. For example, the new chairman of the board will be Texas Commission on Environmental Quality toxicologist Michael Honeycutt consistently argued against the need for stricter controls on ozone, arsenic, mercury and benzene pollution.
Last year, a conservative group called the Energy and Environment Legal Institute — the same group that has sued universities for access to emails from climate scientists — sued the EPA over alleged conflicts of interest among members of its scientific advisory board with EPA research grants. They lost and the court rejected the idea that the grants created a conflict of interest.
But now the EPA’s administrator is making that allegation agency policy.