In a letter to Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 62 House members said his new policy preventing scientists receiving EPA grants to serve on the agency’s panels raises some questions and is an “arbitrary and unnecessary limitation to disqualify preeminent experts”. These advisory panels influence the EPA’s decision- and rule-making on issues and include the Science Advisory Board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Board of Scientific Counselors.
The letter continued: “We are alarmed at the signal this sends about the EPA’s willingness to seek out objective, independent scientific expertise in fulfilling its mandate to protect the environment. The [Science Advisory Board] has been well-respected because of its historical inclusion of independent, objective scientists from both academic and industry backgrounds.”
Rush Holt, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science echoed these sentiments. “The American Association for the Advancement of Science denounces the EPA administrator’s decision to disallow qualified scientific experts from providing evidence-based information as members of its science adviser boards,” he said.
Holt added, “This EPA decision is motivated by politics, not the desire for quality scientific information. Federal agencies should recognize and enable input of scientific and technical information that represents the best available evidence. The government must ensure that its science advisers possess the requisite scientific, medical and technical expertise to inform agency policies. At the same time, the government must facilitate transparency and protect against conflict of interest. Federal agencies from [National Institutes of Health] to EPA have policies on scientific integrity and financial conflict of interest, allowing agencies to balance transparency and access to expertise.”
The letter from the House, with concerns Pruitt’s decision raises, came in direct response to his announcement last week that the EPA would disable such scientists to serve, claiming such positions represent a conflict of interest. This stipulation was put into place at the same time the EPA named numerous new members to its boards, including state officials and those representing oil companies and special interest groups.
“Those advisory committees have given us the bedrock of science to ensure that we’re making informed decisions,” Pruitt said. “And when we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rulemaking, that is not good and that’s not right.” He continued, “They are no longer going to be receiving grants from this agency. They will have to choose, either the grant, or service, but not both.”
Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons has also challenged Pruitt’s decision, saying, “These changes fundamentally upend the role that science should play in policy at the EPA and suggest a profound misunderstanding of how scientific grants are awarded and how science is conducted. To suggest that academic scientists personally profit from grants they receive to conduct research while representatives of regulated industries do not benefit from how regulations are implemented is extremely disingenuous.”
Pruitt himself has denied the fact that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, and has worked to eliminate a large number of regulations enacted under the Obama administration, which raises additional questions regarding his motives to modify the advisory boards.