EPA dismisses half of its scientific advisers on key board, citing ‘clean break’ with Obama administration
By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis
May 8 2017
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has chosen to replace half of the members on one of its key scientific review boards, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the agency evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations.
The move could significantly change the makeup of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises EPA’s key scientific arm on whether the research it does has sufficient rigor and integrity. All of the members being dismissed were at the end of serving at least one three-year term, although these terms are often renewed instead of terminated.
EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said in an email that “no one has been fired or terminated,” and that Pruitt had simply decided to bring in fresh advisers. The agency informed the outside academics on Friday that their terms would not be renewed.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, says he is not convinced carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change and wants Congress to weigh in on whether CO2 should be regulated. (Reuters)
“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,” Freire said. “This approach is what was always intended for the Board, and we’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”
But the move came as a surprise to members of the board, who had been informed both in January, before Barack Obama left office, and then more recently by EPA career staff members, that they would be kept on for another term.
“I was kind of shocked to receive this news,” Robert Richardson, an ecological economist and an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability, said in an interview Sunday.
Richardson, who tweeted on Saturday, “Today, I was Trumped,” said that he was at the end of an initial three-year term on the board, but that board members traditionally have served two such stints. “I’ve never heard of any circumstance where someone didn’t serve two consecutive terms,” he said, adding that the dismissals gave him “great concern that objective science is being marginalized in this administration.”
Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University who had served one term on the board, said in an email that she was also surprised to learn that her term would not be renewed, “particularly since I was told that such a renewal was expected.”
“In the broader view, I suppose it is the prerogative of this administration to set the goals of federal agencies and to appoint members to advisory boards,” she added.
Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, noted in an email that all the board members whose terms are not being renewed could reapply for their positions.
“I’m not quite sure why some EPA career staff simply get angry by us opening up the process,” he said. “It seems unprofessional to me.”