Activist Groups Sue EPA Over Advisory Panel Reforms

Published March 5, 2018

Various environmental activist organizations are suing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt in hope of overturning his October 2017 decision to end the policy of allowing people who receive research grants from EPA to serve on its scientific advisory panels.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on January 25 filed a lawsuit arguing Pruitt’s action violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to seek public comment and provide a reasoned explanation for barring current EPA grant recipients from serving on the agency’s advisory committees.

NRDC’s action came two days after the Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a professor at the University of Washington who currently serves on EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, filed separate lawsuits to block Pruitt’s decision.

NRDC’s filing acknowledges some of its employees have served on EPA advisory panels and argues forcing them to choose between serving on advisory committees or competing for EPA grants would injure scientists by limiting their professional opportunities.

Independence, Not ‘Political Science’

Responding to the lawsuit, agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement EPA’s advisory committees must provide independent, unbiased advice to ensure the development of sound policies.

“We plan to use our science boards fully to … ensure the highest quality independent advice to provide a foundation for the agency’s policies and decisions,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said Pruitt’s October 31 statement announcing the decision stresses the need for independence.

“Whatever science comes out of EPA shouldn’t be political science,” said Pruitt in the statement. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent of the agency.”

EPA’s policy change also expands advisory committees’ regional diversity, increasing access for state, local, and tribal interests that have been historically underrepresented.

‘Goring Their Oxen’

Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says environmental groups fighting the reform are really just battling for continued control of EPA.

“The elimination of scientists from EPA advisory boards, who simultaneously receive EPA grants, is the most symbolic act yet taken by Administrator Pruitt to end the virtual control of the agency by environmental activists bent on shutting down American industrial progress,” Lehr said. “That a number of these groups are suing EPA for goring their oxen is not surprising.”

Steve Milloy, founder of, who also serves as a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, says Pruitt made right decision.

“Administrator Pruitt is absolutely within his statutory rights in bringing about long-overdue reform to the agency’s scientific advisory panels,” said Milloy. “Congress has tried repeatedly to do the same thing and failed each time.

“In reaffirming the scientific independence of these committees, Pruitt is putting an end to the cronyism that had become their stock-in-trade, while allowing a healthy diversity of views to guide the agency,” Milloy said.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.