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EPA to replace half of science advisors, critics fear industry takeover

EPA to replace half of science advisors, critics fear industry takeover
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has dismissed half of the EPA’s key scientific review board members. Some fear the Trump administration is “inserting politics into science” and will favor industries the agency is meant to regulate.

Pruitt is facing a backlash over his decision to not reappoint nine members of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) – a panel which  reviews research done by EPA scientists within the Office of Research and Development (ORD). 

According to JP Freire, a spokesman for the EPA, Pruitt is considering replacing the academic scientists with representatives from the very industries the EPA regulates.

The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire told the New York Times. “We want to expand the pool of applicants to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.

Four other members who have already served their maximum two terms have also left, opening the way for Pruitt to fill 13 of the board’s 18 total seats. The scientists who ended their first term at the agency were recently assured they would be able to stay for another term.

Robert Richardson, one of the members of BOSC whose renewal was denied, told Science Magazine that the cuts "just came out of nowhere."

I’ve never heard of any circumstance where someone didn’t serve two consecutive terms,” Richardson told the Washington Post, adding that the dismissals gave him “great concern that objective science is being marginalized in this administration.”

Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, said the EPA’s decision is “inserting politics into science.

"The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics,” Goldman said, according to CNN.

Members of the BOSC are selected based on scientific merit, according to a 2013 solicitation for committee members. Nominees are evaluated based on “scientific and/or technical expertise, knowledge, and experience” as well as an absence of financial conflicts of interest. 

The dismissals follow HR 1431, a bill passed by the House in March, which alters membership requirements for the EPA’s other major advisory board, the Science Advisory Board (SAB). 

The bill’s sponsor, Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Caller about the bill, which he said was meant to “implement safeguards and shed light on the scientific review process behind many federal regulations.

In rural America, EPA had become a four letter word,” Lucas wrote. “Many of my constituents were constantly worried about potential fines or the overwhelming cost of complying with prospective regulations.

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the agency needs to be restructured in order to remove “clear” conflicts of interests from scientists who “receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post.

However, many scientists who served on the advisory boards say the restructuring will create further conflicts of interest within the agency.

Joseph Arvai, who served on the EPA’s Chartered Science Advisory Board wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post, in which he said the bill was only written to “give business and industry greater influence over EPA rulemaking.”

President Donald Trump has proposed making major cuts to the EPA ever since he took office. The EPA has scrubbed several pages from their website and some environmental regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama have been overturned by the Republican-controlled Congress. 

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