EPA replaces its advisory boards’ scientists with industry reps and state officials

After purging the EPA’s advisory boards of scientists who have received EPA grants–ostensibly to prevent conflicts of interest in the boards’ judgements–agency Administrator Scott Pruitt replaced them Friday with representatives of polluting industries and state governments, including government bodies that have received EPA grants. Conservationists blasted the appointments as sacrificing qualified scientific opinion and letting polluters direct the EPA’s regulating efforts.

The Environmental Protection Agency appointed dozens of officials from regulated states and businesses Friday to its advisory boards. The incoming appointees are replacing career scientists that Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, fired following his implementation last week of a new rule prohibiting scientists who receive EPA grants from serving on the boards.

A total of 66 new experts took up vacant seats on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee, and Board of Scientific Counselors. Some are from state governments that received EPA grants—Pruitt exempted representatives of state, local, and tribal governments from the no-grantee rule.

Other appointees hail from companies such as Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, and the French petroleum company Total. The new advisors also include some current or former members of the American Chemistry Council, the leading lobbying group for the chemical industry.

Pruitt said that the new ban on scientists who had received grants would prevent “conflicts of interest” and that he was seeking industry and state government advisors to get greater “diversity” of opinion.  But environmental-conservation groups blasted his replacement choices as opening the door to a much bigger conflict of interest—i.e., actual polluters advising the EPA on pollution.

“Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Centre for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “He claims federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board but industry funding shouldn’t.”

The advisory boards don’t write EPA policies. But the agency calls on them to assess scientific research and new regulation proposals.

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