Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has made yet another frightening decision that seems likely to further untether the agency he leads from sound environmental science. The former attorney general of Oklahoma announced Tuesday that scientists receiving EPA grants for their research would no longer be eligible to serve on committees that provide his agency with expert scientific input, including the Scientific Advisory Board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Board of Scientific Counselors. In a memo that echoed a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation, Pruitt outlined the unprecedented rules as a way to guard against conflict of interest (no comparable rules prohibit committee members from having ties to industry) and “promote fresh perspectives” (likely Pruitt’s own personal euphemism for incorporating climate change denialism). The EPA head also reprised the controversial decision he’d made this June to not renew contracts for the Board of Scientific Counselors: Incumbent committee members who have only served one three-year term will not be asked to return to the agency, even though it has recently been routine for them to serve two terms, according to the New Republic.
This roster slashing allows Pruitt, who has extensive ties to the energy industry, to fill 21 of the 42 seats on the Scientific Advisory Board. According to a list procured by E&E News—but unconfirmed by the EPA—Pruitt loaded the panel with male scientists from the Midwest and South, several with ties to industry or local government (he also recently decreased its annual number of meetings through a new charter), and announced that Michael Honeycutt, who has expressed doubt over the health dangers posed by ozone, would chair the committee.
The move to limit scientists who receive grants is particularly worrisome. As Ana Diez Roux, the just-replaced chairwoman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said in an email to Science magazine, “The top scientists, the ones most qualified to provide objective and transparent scientific advice to EPA, are of course the scientists who will likely be most successful at obtaining highly competitive federal grants. … It would be a disservice to the American public to exclude those most qualified from serving on these panels.”
By comparing the leaked list of Pruitt’s nominations to current rosters that included term limit data, Slate compiled a list of the scientists whose expertise the EPA will no longer benefit from because these changes cut their time on its advisory boards short:
The Scientific Advisory Board provides reports on scientific topics (like fracking or toxic chemicals) that pertain to EPA regulations. Here are the members whose terms will not be renewed:
Deborah Hall Bennett (first term slated to end in 2019) of the University of California, Davis, an expert on pollutants and environmental epidemiology
Kiros Berhane (first term slated to end in 2018) of the University of Southern California, an EPA-funded expert on using statistics to analyze the health impacts of climate change, air pollution, and occupational exposure
Sylvie Brouder (first term ended in 2017) of Purdue University, an expert on crop nutrition, soil fertility, and agricultural systems
Ana Diez Roux (former CASAC chairwoman, first term on SAB ended in 2017) of Drexel University, an expert on race and neighborhood-related health disparities.
Robert Johnston (second term slated to end in 2018) of Clark University, an expert on the economics of flooding and sea level rise. When asked about the new rules, Johnston said to Politico Pro, “I think it’s really unfortunate that that role is now being politicized in a way that it never has before under any administration.”
Catherine Karr (second term slated to end in 2018) of the University of Washington, an expert on children’s environmental health.
Francine Laden (second term slated to end in 2018) of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an EPA-funded expert on environmental risk factors for cancer and respiratory disease. Laden told Politico Pro she has “serious concerns about the motivations and implications of this decision.”
Denise Mauzerall (first term ended 2017) of Princeton University, an expert on air pollution policy
Kari Nadeau (first term slated to end in 2018) of the Stanford University School of Medicine, an expert on allergy and asthma immunology
Jeanne VanBriesen (second term slated to end in 2018) of Carnegie Mellon University, an expert on environmental systems and the impacts of energy extraction
Elke Weber (first term ended 2017) of Princeton University, an expert on decision-making and risk analysis in financial and environmental choices
Charles Werth (first term ended 2017) of the University of Texas at Austin, an expert in clean energy, water treatment, and pollution
Robyn Wilson (first term slated to end in 2018) of Ohio State University, an EPA-funded expert in land management decision-making and risk analysis. Wilson tweeted:
On the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, a smaller panel that offers insight on air pollution standards and health effects, these members will be leaving their positions earlier than anticipated:
Donna Kenski (first term slated to end in 2019) of the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (an EPA-funded nonprofit), an expert on air quality monitoring. Kenski told the New York Times, “The really galling part of this is that it’s all in an effort to avoid conflict of interest, but they pretend that the industry people who are being offered up positions on the panel are somehow unbiased because they’re not getting money from EPA.”
Ronald Wyzga (second term slated to end in 2018) of the Electric Power Research Institute, an expert on the health effects of air pollution
If there’s any silver lining to be had, it’s this: Pruitt didn’t seem to rely on his panel of experts much anyway. In September, outgoing board chairman Peter Thorne wrote to the administrator that “the SAB stands ready to serve and encourages you to take full advantage of the vital resource we can provide,” but then, the Washington Post notes, “Pruitt never met with the group.”
Unfortunately, given Pruitt’s history, it seems quite likely that he’ll make better use of the board once he’s stocked it with industry insiders.