Industry Could Play Bigger Role at EPA

11.05.2017 -

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fired at least five of the 18 scientists on its Board of Scientific Counselors in a move the agency’s new leadership said was aimed at “taking as inclusive an approach to regulation as possible. We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, the EPA public affairs office said. Replacements could include, for example, “universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”

An EPA spokesman told the newspaper New York Times the agency was considering filling some of the vacancies with representatives from industries that the EPA regulates, “in order to include members who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”

Some of the scientists dismissed last week, said to include professors of natural resource sociology, said they had been assured in January, when the new administration of President Donald Trump began cleaning house of his predecessor’s appointees, that they would retain their positions.

Among them, Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University said he believes the role science has played in the agency in the past is being downgraded. Going forward, he said, the EPA’s science will appear to be friendlier to the fossil fuel industry and the chemical industry, and “it will be science that marginalizes climate change science."

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, after initial hesitation, meanwhile has said he will remove himself from lawsuits he was a part of while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, reacting to demands brought by Democratic legislators.  Among the suits he will recuse himself from are challenges to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and the former president’s controversial amendment to the Clean Water Act.

Pruitt had been involved in the cases in his Oklahoma role, where he was one of the most active state officials in bringing lawsuits against the agency he now leads. The former state official said also that he will not participate in any ongoing challenges to environmental regulations in which Oklahoma is a “party, petitioner or intervenor.”

One of the Democratic senators who had called for Pruitt to recuse himself, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, told news media the EPA administrator “is doing the bare minimum,” while remarking that Pruitt as a matter of course “will be making “pivotal decisions” on cases he sought to influence.  

“We have no way of knowing when he should recuse himself from the untold number of matters involving dark money funders he used to solicit, because he has never yet told the truth about who they are,” Whitehouse added.