Shared from the 2017-10-31 The Miami Herald eEdition

In huge shift, EPA to prohibit scientists who receive agency funding from serving as advisers

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Pruitt

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is poised to make wholesale changes to the agency’s key advisory group, jettisoning scientists who have received grants from the EPA and replacing them with industry experts and state government officials.

The move represents a fundamental shift, one that could change the scientific and technical advice that historically has guided the EPA as the agency crafts environmental regulations. The decision to bar any researcher who receives EPA grant money from serving as an adviser to the agency appears to be unprecedented.

A list of expected appointees for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, obtained by The Washington Post from multiple individuals familiar with the appointments, include several categories of experts — voices from regulated industry, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states, and researchers who have a history of critiquing the science and economics underpinning tighter environmental regulations. They would replace a number of scientists who currently receive grants from the agency or whose terms are not being renewed.

Terry Yosie, who served as director of the advisory board during the Reagan administration, said the changes “represent a major purge of independent scientists and a decision to sideline the SAB from major EPA decision-making.”

The EPA could not immediately be reached for comments, but Pruitt suggested in a speech this month at the Heritage Foundation that he planned to rid the agency’s scientific advisory boards of researchers who receive EPA grants. He argued that the current structure raises questions about their independence, though he did not voice similar objections to industry-funded scientists.

“What’s most important at the agency is to have scientific advisers that are objective, independent-minded, providing transparent recommendations,” Pruitt said at the time. “If we have individuals who are on those boards, sometimes receiving money from the agency ... that to me causes questions on the independence and the veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way.”

Among the likely appointees are sharp proponents of deregulation, who have argued that federal regulators need to raise the bar before imposing new burdens on the private sector.

At least three of the new appointees have a background working for large corporations whose activities are or could potentially be regulated by the EPA, including the French oil giant Total, Phillips 66, and the large utility the Southern Co.

In addition, the group of new appointees include those who have, like Pruitt, battled the EPA in the past.

The move to prohibit anyone receiving EPA grant money from serving on the board has prompted questions and criticism from independent researchers, as well as some of the agency’s current advisers, who noted that they follow strict ethics procedures to avoid conflicts of interest.

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