American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board to curb the agency’s regulatory power and reduce the role of academic research in protecting the earth.
EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt’s spokesperson JP Freire said, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman.
The dismissals came last Friday – about six weeks after the House passed a bill aimed at changing the composition of another EPA scientific review board to include more representation from the corporate world, reports The Independent.
President Donald Trump has directed Pruitt to radically remake the EPA, pushing for deep cuts in its budget — including a 40 per cent reduction for its main scientific branch — and instructing him to roll back major Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection.
In recent weeks, the agency has removed some scientific data on climate change from its websites, and Pruitt has publicly questioned the established “science of human-caused climate change.”
In his first outings as EPA administrator, Pruitt has made a point of visiting coal mines and pledging that his agency will seek to restore that industry, even though many members of both of the EPA’s scientific advisory boards have historically recommended stringent constraints on coal pollution to combat climate change.
Science advocates denounced the move as part of a broader push by the EPA to downgrade science and elevate business interests.
“This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda,” said Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What seems to be premature removals of members of this Board of Science Counselors when the board has come out in favor of the EPA strengthening its climate science, plus the severe cuts to research and development — you have to see all these things as interconnected.”
The scientists dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors received emails from an agency official informing them that their three-year terms had expired and would not be renewed. That was contrary, the scientists said, to what they had been told by officials at the agency in January, just before Trump’s inauguration.
“Most of us on the council are academic people,” said Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University who focuses on managing hazardous waste. “I think they want to bring in business and industry people.”
Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University who has served on the board since 2014, said she was surprised by the dismissal.
“I believe this is political,” said Flint, whose research focuses on how communities respond to major disruptions in the environment, such as exposure to toxic pollution, forest fires and climate change. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”
Another of the dismissed scientists made his grievances public. “Today, I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University, wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”
The board is charged with reviewing and evaluating the research conducted by the agency’s scientists. Those studies are used by government regulators to draft rules and restrictions on everything from hazardous waste dumped in water to the emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change.
Members of the board say they have reviewed the EPA’s scientific research on the public health impact of leaking underground fuel tanks, the toxicity of the chemicals used to clean up oil spills, and the effects of the spread of bark beetles caused by a warming climate.
A larger, corresponding panel, the 47-member Science Advisory Board, advises the agency on what areas it should conduct research in and evaluates the scientific integrity of some of its regulations.
Both boards, which until now have been composed almost entirely of academic research scientists, have long been targets of political attacks. Congressional Republicans and industry groups have sought to either change their composition or weaken their influence on the environmental regulatory process.