On Monday, the Washington Post reports that EPA head Scott Pruitt was behind the dismissal of half of the members of the agency’s Board of Science Counselors. The 18-member board oversees the rigour and integrity of the scientific research guiding policy decisions coming out of the EPA, from climate change to air pollution. Even more alarming, a spokesman for the EPA told the New York Times their replacements may be representatives from the polluting industries themselves. While the move has outraged some environmentalists, it seems completely in line with Pruitt’s longstanding goal of curtailing the EPA’s regulatory power from within.
The Board of Science Counselors has 18 members, at least five of whom were dismissed on Friday. Board members are typically acclaimed scientists from universities. The dismissed members included Courtney Flint, a Utah State University researcher studying rural sociology and natural resources, and Ponisseril Somasundaran, a Columbia Univeristy mineral engineer researching hazardous waste management. The members were told via email that their three-year terms on the board, which had just expired, would not be renewed. Former board member Robert Richardson, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability, tweeted on Saturday, “Today, I’ve been Trumped.”
An EPA spokesman told The Washington Post that the board members whose terms were not renewed are free to reapply for their positions “in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool” which may include industry officials from timber, poultry and oil companies. The spokesman told The New York Times, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”
Pruitt’s career has long focused on both obfuscating climate science and trying to block environmental regulation. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt stood by representatives from fossil fuel industries multiple times as he sued the EPA to block regulations. The nearly $US240,000 ($323,581) he’s received in donation money from polluting industries was cause for alarm during his confirmation hearing. Now, these industries will potentially have an even greater influence on the EPA’s ability to formalise any regulation by weighing in on the integrity of the science used to develop policies in the first place.
In his short time as EPA administrator, Pruitt has already taken major steps toward reducing the agency’s ability to protect the environment. Dropping experts who could challenge the scientific basis for his decisions might sound depressing, but it’s wholly consistent with everything else we’ve seen so far. A causal reminder here that neither Pruitt nor the current US president is certain human activity causes global warming.
We reached out to the EPA to confirm exactly how many science advisers are being removed but had not heard back at time of writing. Maybe we’ll get lucky and only half of the scientific advisers for the most powerful environmental regulatory body in the US will have dubious ties to fossil fuel industries?