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UCS Sues to Stop EPA from Kicking Independent Experts Off Advisory Boards

By Josh Goldman

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Protect Democracy—a legal non-profit dedicated to preventing our democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government—have teamed up to challenge U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's directive that would ban anyone from serving on EPA advisory boards if they receive EPA grant funding.

Under the guise of improving advisory board balance, Pruitt is using this directive to populate advisory boards with industry-funded scientists and state government officials who have made a career fighting federal regulations. The EPA Science Advisory Board, for example, now includes 14 new members who consult or work for the fossil fuel or chemical industries, which gave Pruitt nearly $320,000 for his campaigns in Oklahoma as a state senator and attorney general.


Banning EPA grant recipients from EPA advisory boards excludes academic scientists from serving on EPA advisory boards in particular, since academics often rely on outside funding—from EPA or elsewhere—to conduct research, fund graduate students, and work in the public interest. For example, EPA grants have funded research linked with projects that: protect children who are at-risk for lead poisoning in Indiana, restore coastal forests in Connecticut, and maintain clean drinking water in Mississippi. It's hard to argue why conducting research in support of these types of projects would make someone provide biased advice to EPA, yet that's the reasoning that Pruitt uses to justify this directive. The reality is that industry-funded science tends to be biased, not science from independent academic institutions.

The scientists that Pruitt has removed from EPA advisory boards also happen to be some of our country's best. Those already dismissed include a Fulbright Scholar and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, for example. Pruitt has replaced these leaders with scientists who work for the fossil fuel, tobacco and chemical industries and have a history of downplaying the health risks of secondary smoke, air pollution and other public health hazards.

The real reasoning behind this directive is to make it easier for Pruitt to delay, rollback or dismantle the EPA regulations that are designed to protect clean air, water and public health. As we begin 2018, EPA is reconsidering rules that would address: the high asthma and cancer rates caused by heavy-duty trucks on busy roadways, the huge amount of global warming emissions from passenger vehicles, and the outdated emergency response requirements for facilities that store explosive or hazardous chemicals. These types of regulations rely on advise from EPA advisory boards, which are now more likely to support Pruitt in loosening rules that cover the industries tied to the new EPA advisory board members.

Our suit challenging the advisory board directive, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that the Pruitt directive is arbitrary and capricious (legalese for b.s.), and has no basis in law or EPA precedent. Our complaint also details how this directive violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires all advisory committees to be "fairly balanced," and not be "inappropriately influenced" by the appointing authority.

I'll keep you posted on how this suit develops. In the interim, if you have received EPA funding or have served on an EPA advisory committee, send me your story at (jgoldman@ucsusa.org).

Even if you aren't an EPA-connected expert, check out how you can get more involved in the fight against Pruitt's anti-science crusade by visiting the UCS action center. This administration needs to hear from everyone, not just scientists and UCS provides a platform for you to join the hundreds of thousands of UCS supporters across the country in standing up for independent scientists and an EPA that seeks to protect public health, not industry profits.

Josh Goldman is a lead policy analyst managing legislative and regulatory campaigns to help develop and advance policies that reduce U.S. oil use.

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