Pruitt Bans Grant Scientists From EPA Advisory Boards

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Environmental scientists who receive funding from the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer be allowed to serve on the department's advisory committees.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced change to its staffing policies for research and policy advisory boards in a press conference on Oct. 31.

"We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process and that the scientists that are advising us are doing so without any type of appearance of conflict of interest," said Pruitt, according to BuzzFeed News.

The move would prevent scientists involved in making key discoveries about the environment from using those discoveries to influence governmental regulation. The Hill reports that while members of advisory committees do not have the power to issue regulations, they are called upon by the administrator and other EPA members to help inform their decisions.

The affected boards include the Scientific Advisory Board, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, and the Board of Scientific Counselors, The Washington Post reports.

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Deborah Swackhamer, environmental chemist and the former head of the BOSC, said that she did not receive advance notice of her termination.

"I read about it in the news," Swackhamer wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. "Given Mr. Pruitt's recent actions on renewals, I would be surprised to be asked to serve a second term, but who knows."

Swackhamer confirmed with the EPA that she will stay on her committee until her term ends on Mar. 8, 2018.

Russ Hold, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the new policy "is motivated by politics, not the desire for quality scientific information," according to The Hill.

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Opponents of the changes worry that the advisory boards will be open to industrial leaders, who are often the ones affected by environmental policies.  

"Scott Pruitt’s latest move to reject qualified scientists to make room for industry-sponsored individuals isn’t fooling anyone," said Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "Since he arrived at the agency, Mr. Pruitt has repeatedly worked to silence EPA scientists, deny the facts and discredit science inconvenient to his agenda; now he’s trying to get rid of the scientists altogether."

Not everyone is critical of Pruitt's changes. Republican senators say that the move will fill representational gaps across the advisory boards.

"For too long, the agency’s advisory committees were not representative of the whole country," said Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the SEPWC. "Today’s directive from Administrator Pruitt will ensure that the unique perspectives of Wyoming and other rural states are not left out of the conversation."

Aside from the policy changes, some took issue Pruitt's use of religion in his announcement.

"Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve," Pruitt said, citing the Book of Joshua. "This is sort of like the Joshua principle -- that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do."

Sources: The Hill, BuzzFeed News, The Washington Post / Featured Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr / Embedded Images: TexasGOPVote.com/Flickr, Western Journalism via Wikimedia Commons

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