EPA Housecleaning Shakes Up Scientific Advisory Boards

Published August 31, 2017

Underscoring the Trump administration’s commitment to reforming the way the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts its operations, EPA has notified dozens of scientists serving on one of its key advisory boards their services will no longer be needed when their current terms run out.

Members of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) whose terms are set to end in August were told in a June e-mail their membership would not be renewed. The e-mail from Robert Kavlock, acting assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), said board members could reapply for membership, giving them until June 30 to do so.

The BOSC is tasked with ensuring the research ORD uses is rigorous, has integrity, and is based on the best available science. EPA’s website says the BOSC is charged with giving “advice, information, and recommendations to EPA’s Office of Research and Development on technical and management issues of its research programs.”

The Trump administration has proposed deep cuts for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Breaking with Precedent

In May, EPA notified scientists on the BOSC their terms of office would not be automatically renewed as had been the practice under previous presidential administrations. Historically, most members appointed for a three-year term have typically had their terms automatically extended for a second term if they desired to continue serving on an advisory committee.

EPA’s actions show this has changed. At least during Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure in office, advisory board memberships will be filled on a competitive basis as each board member’s term expires.

With this new round of notices, the BOSC’s executive committee has only five of its 19 members remaining, and 38 of the 49 remaining members of the board’s five subcommittees are also being cut loose at the end of August.

As a result of the shake-up, several BOSC subcommittee meetings scheduled for later this summer have been cancelled for lack of people to attend them. Once the vacancies have been filled, the subcommittees are expected to begin meeting regularly again.

‘Inclusive Approach’

“EPA is grateful for the service of all BOSC members, past and present, and has encouraged those with expiring terms to reapply,” Amy Graham, an EPA spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We are taking an inclusive approach to filling future BOSC appointments and welcome all applicants from all relevant scientific and technical fields.”

Scott Openshaw, senior director of advocacy communications for the American Chemistry Council, says he hopes Pruitt’s actions to form a more inclusive BOSC will improve the science the agency uses to inform its decisions.

“A number of people and groups have been concerned in the past the membership of EPA’s scientific advisory boards lacked diversity: diversity of interests, diversity of scientific disciplines, and diversity of backgrounds, resulting in a narrow or biased perspective concerning issues EPA was researching,” Openshaw said. “Everyone benefits when regulations are based on the best available science.

“Hopefully, Administrator Scott Pruitt’s actions to shake up the appointment process will bring in a wider array of viewpoints to EPA decision-making, in the process creating greater transparency concerning how EPA advisory boards function and generating a sounder scientific basis and more accountability for the conclusions they reach,” said Openshaw.

Says Housecleaning Was Overdue

Since taking the helm at EPA in February, Pruitt has rescinded several Obama-era regulations, including the Waters of the United States rule. In addition, Pruitt advised President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The shake-up in the BOSC could soon be followed by similar actions on the agency’s Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D., director of science policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, said EPA’s housecleaning is long overdue.

“For decades, EPA has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the environmental left,” said Lehr. “Together, radical environmentalists and EPA bureaucrats, including the members of all their advisory panels, have used their considerable power to thwart American business at every turn.

“If you are an objective scientist without extremist views, you are not welcome in their halls,” Lehr said. “As one who played a key role in the formation of EPA in 1971, I find it gratifying to see the agency finally freed from the clutches of those whose motivation was never to protect the environment but to use EPA’s regulatory power to transform the nation. Scott Pruitt’s decision to clean house at BOSC is a huge step in the right direction.”

Ending ‘Rigged Game’

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says Pruitt’s move is further evidence Washington insiders are being pushed aside.

“The longstanding cozy relationships between EPA and a carefully selected group of cronies masquerading as objective scientists have come at the expense of ordinary citizens who bear the brunt of EPA’s edicts but whose voices were systematically ignored,” Rucker said. “It’s been a rigged game, but now the old guard is being sent packing.”

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