EPA Replacing Scientists on Science Advisory Boards With Industry Reps

New rules governing who is allowed to sit on advisory committees for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be designed to replace scientists serving on those committees with industry representatives, critics say. 

On October 31, EPA Director Scott Pruitt issued a directive (PDF), which he suggests is meant to strengthen membership on the agency’s advisory committees. The new directive calls for members to be financially independent from the EPA, meaning that they cannot be the recipient of any EPA grants. It also calls for more frequent rotation of the membership. However, some worry that the change is likely to lead to the removal of many independent scientists and result in larger representation of industrial interests.

“Whatever science comes out of EPA, shouldn’t be political science,” Pruitt said in a press release. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the Agency.”

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Critics say that what appears to be an innocuous and benign ruling is actually designed to pretty much wipe out scientific representation on the science advisory boards. Many, if not most or nearly all, environmental scientists receive some portion of the large amount of grant money doled out by the EPA, according to a press release by the legal action group, Earth Justice.

Experts who do not receive federal funds for research often, by definition, work for industry and represent industry interests.

“EPA’s science advisory boards have been in polluters’ crosshairs for years. Since 2012, industry allies in Congress have repeatedly proposed legislation that would prohibit scientists from serving on the boards if they receive EPA grants,” the Earth Justice press release states. “Industry understands that academic experts rely upon these grants to a much greater extent than industry consultants do.”

According to the EPA, members of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and Board of Scientific Counselors, have received about $77 million in direct EPA grants over the last three years.

In addition to the grant restrictions, which do not apply to committee members who receive grants through state, local and tribal governments, Pruitt also says he plans to appoint new leadership to those same three committees.

Pruitt argues that the changes will increase the objectivity of the panels, but it comes amid a huge push toward deregulation by the current administration, and what some say is a strident and blatant anti-science stance. Pruitt himself, the former Oklahoma Attorney General, repeatedly sued the EPA to prevent pro-environmental regulations from being implemented.

Tags: EPA


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