Earlier this month, in a bold move, Scott Pruitt terminated all Environmental Protection Agency board members who receive grants for their research and replaced them with eleven controversial new members, including those who have a history of downplaying the effects of air pollution and secondhand smoke. Pruitt said that those receiving grants are unable to remain objective, and therefore, he had to put a stop to their input.
He removed twenty-one members of the Science Advisory Board, replacing academics with sixteen experts who have ties to industries regulated by the EPA and two without industry ties. In what appears to be a political move, more than anything, Pruitt gave positions to fourteen members who work for or consult for the fossil fuel and chemical industries. These industry leaders gave Pruitt more than $300,000 for his state senator and attorney general campaigns in Oklahoma.
The Science Advisory Board was established by Congress in 1978. It is supposed to help the agency ensure it has the best science available when issuing regulations and drafting standards that address the country’s drinking water, as well as those designed to put a stop to pollution and other environmental issues which could pose a threat to public health. “If memberships are weighted toward viewpoints that support the agenda of the administration, then the administration is signaling that it’s not asking for advice, but for a rubber stamp,” said environmental scientist Deborah Swackhamer. “That’s a complete misuse.”
Pruitt has been criticized for a number of things since taking office. The drastic board changes are not the first move he’s made that has raised some eyebrows. For one, Pruitt has been criticized for being too secretive, prohibiting his employees from bringing their phones into meetings and avoiding emails and other written communication altogether. He also has bodyguards and law enforcement on duty 24/7.
Just a few months ago, the administrator requested a customized soundproof telephone booth be built for him. Steve Snider, an acoustic sales consultant who worked on the order said the agency’s “main goal was they wanted essentially a secure phone booth that couldn’t be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping.”
Then, there’s Pruitt’s largely ineffective policies, which some say bear no weight or are entirely politically driven and need to stop. “You can’t have clean air and you can’t have clean water if you’re going to roll back crucial environmental rules and not enforce the rules we have on the book,” said Judith Enck, a New York-based regional EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama, said of the administrator’s position. “We’ll see the effects very soon.”
“The top ten list, which [Pruitt] claimed would accelerate [environmental] cleanups, actually entails taking money from some cleanups and putting it in other cleanups,” said Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund. That “opens the door to lobbyists trying to push for attention for one site versus another.”
Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which oversees wastewater and stormwater systems, said he has yet to see Pruitt or his agency have a “rapid or deep desire to change or roll back major regulations that really affect our members.”
What is next on the agenda? Only Scott Pruitt and his entourage of guards have that answer.