EPA Dismisses Scientists On Review Board, May Replace With Industry Allies

Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donal Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. The nomination of Pruitt, currently Oklahoma’s attorney general, to lead the EPA is being fiercely opposed by environmental groups that point to fundraising ties with corporations he has sued to protect. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Environmental Protection Agency dismissed a number of scientists on a key review board Friday, and a spokesperson for the agency discussed the possibility that it would replace them with representatives of the industries the agency regulates.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that at least five members of the EPA’s 18-seat Board of Scientific Counselors, responsible for reviewing the agency science that ultimately drives regulatory decision-making, had been dismissed at the end of their three-year terms. The Washington Post reported Monday that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had dismissed half of the board’s members.

Scientists on the board said they were told during the Obama administration that their terms would be renewed, as they normally were for at least a second term.

An EPA spokesperson did not respond to TPM’s questions about whether, or how dramatically, Pruitt intended to change the balance of the board to favor industry scientists.

Agency spokesperson J.P. Freire told the Post that the dismissals marked a “clean break” with the Obama administration, and that “We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool.”

Friere told the Times that Pruitt wanted to include more universities in the adviser applicant pool, as well as “issues that aren’t typically represented.”

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” he added.

The move followed a wave of EPA actions that have alarmed climate scientists and others.

In March, the Post reported on a proposal to gut the budget for the 47-member Science Advisory Board, which similarly reviews agency science.

On Thursday, the EPA’s climate change page was taken down, pending review, as part of a larger update of the agency’s website. Several other executive branch agencies have taken down or sanitized information about climate change on their websites.