The Trump administration rolled out a new policy Tuesday that scientists receiving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants cannot serve on the agency’s advisory boards, a move critics said is part of a war on independent science.
(From The Hill / by Timothy Cama) — The policy, rolled out at an EPA event by Administrator Scott Pruitt, would shut hundreds of expert scientists working in environmental and health fields at universities from serving on the boards, and would almost certainly increase the representation from companies and industry groups.
The unprecedented policy was quickly denounced by Democrats and environmental groups, who say it is a poorly disguised way to push out unfriendly experts and bring in friendly ones.
But Republicans, who have long been seeking the same goals through other means, applauded the policy.
Pruitt presented the policy as a way to reduce conflicts of interest. EPA grantees, he said, inevitably are conflicted because of the money they receive from the agency.
“Those advisory committees have given us the bedrock of science to ensure that we’re making informed decisions,” Pruitt said at the event.
“And when we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rulemaking, that is not good and that’s not right,” he said.
EPA advisory committee members have gotten $77 million in EPA grants over the last three years, Pruitt said.
“We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process, and that the scientists who are advising us are doing so with not any type of appearance of conflict,” he said. “And when you receive that much money … there’s a question that arises about independence.”
Pruitt cited a Bible verse from the Book of Joshua, in which Joshua led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, but asked them to choose between worshipping God or their “false gods.”
“Choose this day whom you will serve,” Pruitt said, quoting Joshua.
“This is sort of like the Joshua principle,” he said. “Either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or choose the grant. But you can’t do both.”
Pruitt had teased the grantee policy earlier this month at a Heritage Foundation event.
The directive issued Tuesday also seeks more state, local and tribal government representation on the advisory boards, more geographic diversity and more new candidates with “fresh perspectives” on the matters before the committees.
State, local and tribal government representatives also get an exemption to Pruitt’s ban on grantees.
The committees at issue include the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee.