EPA-Funded Scientists Barred From Serving on Advisory Committees
On October 31, 2017, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a directive preventing any researcher receiving agency grants from serving on its scientific advisory panels. The directive states:
“Members shall be independent from EPA, which shall include a requirement that no member of an EPA federal advisory committee be currently in receipt of EPA grants, either as principal investor or co-investigator, or in a position that otherwise would reap substantial direct benefit from an EPA grant.”
In November 2017, ten Democratic and Independent Senators wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that it consider several questions relating to Administrator Pruitt’s directive. Two of the Senators subsequently sent a second letter to GAO, on February 14, 2018, to notify it of information suggesting that Administrator Pruitt and his designees “are disregarding normal procedures and advice from career staff.”
In January 2018, two Iowa State University professors were removed from EPA scientific advisory board as they receive federal funding, contrary to Administrator Pruitt’s directive.
In April 2018, it was reported that at least two members appointed by Administrator Pruitt to EPA’s scientific advisory board have received industry funding for research that contradicts “mainstream science” on the health effects of air pollution.
In August 2018, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report detailing the results of a survey of EPA and other government scientists. The report indicates that EPA scientists are concerned that the agency’s scientific advisory committees are losing expertise. According to the report:
- 61% of EPA scientists surveyed reported that “the expertise of EPA scientific advisory committees has deteriorated over the past year.”
- 35% of EPA scientists surveyed did not agree that “advisory committees are comprised of individuals with appropriate expertise and who can provide independent scientific advice.”
- One EPA scientist stated that “[c]hanging the composition of [the Scientific Advisory Board] to exclude academic scientists receiving EPA grants harms the agency’s mission by reducing panel diversity.”
Administrator Pruitt’s directive has been challenged in three separate lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. All three suits were dismissed at first instance. On appeal, the U.S.. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court for the District of Columbia and found that the directive was arbitrary and capricious because EPA had failed to explain why it was reversing its previous policy regarding science advisory panel members. An appeal of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts was also successful, with the Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reversing the district court's decision.
Also in response to the directive, the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors established a new Environmental Science and Policy Advisory Committee (ESPAC) to review EPA scientific reports. The ESPAC is intended to “provide unbiased reviews of the science supporting selected planned regulatory actions under consideration by the EPA. The committee will also assess the appropriateness and scientific soundness of the conclusions presented in the EPA reports. The ESPAC will operate in a manner similar to that of the . . . [EPA’s] Science Advisory Board” and will be chaired by a former member of the board.