EPA's Pruitt recuses himself from environmental lawsuits

Adjust Comment Print

The Environmental Protection Agency dismissed half the scientists who serve on a science review board that plays a crucial role in the work the EPA does, CNN has learned Monday. Deborah L. Swackhamer said the affected board members' terms expired April 30. He added that he was at the end of his first three-year term with the Board of Scientific Counselors, but that he had "never heard of any circumstance where someone didn't serve two, consecutive terms".

President Trump signing an executive order on energy in March beside EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (second from left).

EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the agency wants to consider new nominees, including those who may now work for regulated industries.

The EPA statement said Pruitt will continue to consult with the agency's ethics counsel to ensure there is no question of impropriety in how it deals with litigation to which Pruitt had been a party as Oklahoma's attorney general.

The Trump administration may give industries a bigger platform to influence agencies' decisions by reshaping the scientific and expert panels that give advice to the federal government about the dangers of pollution, how to manage public lands and other research areas. It's not a partisan board, but has been a target of political attacks from Republicans like Representative Lamar Smith, who say it pushes the agency toward stricter regulations.

"We are going to look at all applicants that come in, because this is an open and competitive process", Freire said.

Two specific panels have been named already: The 47-member Science Advisory Board, which evaluates certain regulations and helps direct research done for the agency, and the Board of Scientific Counselors, an 18-member panel that assesses the diligence of that research.

Freire added, "We're making a clean break with the last administration's approach".

The board's advisers are appointed for three-year terms, which are typically renewed even under a new administration. Dropping experts who could challenge the scientific basis for his decisions might sound depressing, but it's wholly consistent with everything else we've seen so far.

Pruitt, who does not believe in the scientific consensus on climate change, sued the EPA 14 times before leading it and took over with the intention of shrinking the agency. The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act - which has yet to be taken up by the Senate - would prohibit anyone who has an ongoing research grant from the EPA to serve on the board, and prohibits board members from applying for grants for three years after they step down from the panel. The EPA has plenty of scientists who conduct research and publish their findings.

EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the scientist's descriptions of being fired were not accurate.

An EPA spokesperson did not respond to TPM's questions about whether, or how dramatically, Pruitt meant to change the balance of the board to favor industry scientists.