President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has dismissed at least five academic members of one of its scientific review boards and may replace them with representatives from industries the EPA regulates, according to The New York Times. Nine of the 18 scientists serving on the Board of Scientific Counselors were notified via email Friday that they will not be coming back following the termination of their three-year terms.
An EPA spokesman told The Washington Post that the board members whose terms were not renewed are free to reapply for their positions "in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool" which may include industry officials from timber, poultry and oil companies.
Members of the Board of Scientific Counselors are typically top academic experts tasked with helping ensure the agency's scientists follow well-established best practices.
"We're not going to rubber-stamp the last administration's appointees".
"The administrator (Pruitt) believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community", spokesman J.P. Freire said.
Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will recuse himself from legal cases he brought against the agency in his earlier job as attorney general of Oklahoma, E&E News reported last week. 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 dismissed members included Courtney Flint, a Utah State University researcher studying rural sociology and natural resources, and Ponisseril Somasundaran, a Columbia Univeristy mineral engineer researching hazardous waste management.
The decision is the latest in a series of moves that could benefit industries whose pollution is regulated by the agency.
The Trump administration already has targeted EPA's Office of Research and Development for a $233 million spending cut next fiscal year - about half its annual budget.
Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy asked, "What's the scientific reason for removing these individuals from this EPA science review board? This approach is what was always intended for the Board and we're making a clear break with the last administration's approach". "Perhaps more significant is the signal it sends about the politicization of science, which will likely exacerbate mistrust and cynicism of the federal government".
It remains to be seen who will get appointed to the board.
"The EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment", he added. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is "reviewing the charter and charge" of more than 200 advisory boards, committees, and other entities both within and outside of his department", the Post wrote.
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