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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board public meeting on fracking's effect on drinking water, June 14, 2016. YouTube

EPA Limits Independent Science Advisors, Provokes Conflict of Interest Concerns

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt announced a new policy Tuesday to limit the presence of researchers who have received EPA research grants on the agency's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB).

The move, which Pruitt has said will promote "objective, independent-minded" advisors, has been promoted by conservative think tanks and industry as a way of including more industry voices on advisory panels.


A list provided to the Washington Post and E&E News of expected new appointees to the advisory board shows several industry representatives, government officials and outspoken proponents of deregulation. The move "bans some independent scientists from providing scientific advice while giving those with conflicts a free pass," Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog post quoted by Politico.

"Collectively, these actions create an abhorrent double standard: scientists who rely on public funding are left out, while industry scientists face no restrictions on service," Halpern added. "Fossil fuel and chemical companies already enjoy undue influence over EPA policy under Pruitt. Now, they're taking control over science advice to the agency."

As reported by the Washington Post:

"The move represents a fundamental shift, one that could change the scientific and technical advice that historically has guided the agency as it crafts environmental regulations. The decision to bar any researcher who receives EPA grant money from serving as an adviser appears to be unprecedented."

The Post added that Terry F. Yosie, the advisory board's director during the Reagan administration, said the changes "represent a major purge of independent scientists and a decision to sideline the SAB from major EPA decision-making in the future."

For a deeper dive:

Washington Post, Politico Pro, E&E

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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Map of damage to the town of Paradise from the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. NASA / JPL-Caltech

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Zinke tours Paradise, Calif. Nov. 14 with Governor Jerry Brown and FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Zinke Blames ‘Radical Environmentalists’ for Historic California Wildfire

In an interview with Breitbart News on Sunday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke blamed "radical environmentalists" for the wildfires that have devastated California in recent weeks, The Huffington Post reported.

"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

You can listen to the whole thing here:

The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change in a statement made last weekend.

"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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