Trump’s EPA Takes Steps To ‘Ensure Independence’ Among Science Advisers

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said a new conflict of interest policy would “ensure independence” and “geographical representation” on scientific advisory boards.

EPA will no longer allow researchers to serve on three scientific advisory boards if they also receive agency grants. The policy is to ensure science advisers are truly independent from EPA, Pruitt said, echoing concerns Republicans have voiced for years.

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

EPA will soon announce dozens of new appointments to three science boards — the Science Advisory Board (SAB), Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) — using the new policy.

“They’ll have to make a decision” on whether to take EPA money or continue to serve on an advisory board, Pruitt said in a pen and pad session with reported on Tuesday.

Pruitt said the board will be made up of environmentalists, industry groups, states, tribes, academics and other experts to provide a wide array of perspectives on EPA science policy. EPA has 22 boards, but the new directive will only apply to three for now.

In the last three years, members of the three targeted committees got $77 million in EPA grants while serving. Conservative groups have found CASAC members have gotten $192 million in EPA grants since 2000.

Pruitt also put a big emphasis on “geographical diversity” in appointing science advisers. EPA officials said science boards have typically left out experts from large swaths of the country, especially western states that feel most of the brunt of clean air rules.

“You want a cross-section of scientists involved who understand the issue from a state-level perspective,” Pruitt told reporters.

EPA’s new policy was welcomed by western Republicans who have long criticized the agency’s scientific process.

“For too long, the agency’s advisory committees were not representative of the whole country,” Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said in a statement. “Today’s directive from Administrator Pruitt will ensure that the unique perspectives of Wyoming and other rural states are not left out of the conversation.”

Republicans have tried to reform EPA’s science advisory boards for years, pushing legislation to block researchers receiving government grants from serving on such boards.

Democrats and environmentalists heavily criticized Pruitt’s policy, saying it would disqualify experts from sitting on advisory committees and allow more room for industry to control the process.

States regulators also came out in favor of the new policy, which gives states and local governments a greater voice on scientific panels.

“Geographically diverse state and local officials have a unique, independent perspective as a result of their on-the-ground experience carrying out the Clean Air Act and other environmental statutes,” said Stuart Spencer, president of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies who also serves as associate director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality

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