EPA Move To Increase Scientific Advisory Board Transparency Applauded
BY MICHAEL SANDOVAL Western Wire
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday he planned to curtail the practice of distributing research grants to scientists appointed to the agency’s scientific advisory boards to improve their “independence and transparency and objectivity.”
“If we have individuals who are on those boards receiving money from the agency, sometimes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, that calls into question the independence of the recommendations that come our way,” Pruitt said, speaking at a Heritage Foundation event. “Next week, I will issue a directive that addresses that, to ensure the independence and transparency and objectivity with respect to the scientific advice that we are getting at the agency.”
“Reforming EPA’s advisory boards will strengthen public trust in the EPA and the science the agency uses to justify its policies,” Thea McDonald, communications director for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, told Western Wire.
“Chairman Lamar Smith has long advocated for a more balanced and transparent membership on the advisory boards, especially after conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency became prevalent during the Obama administration,” McDonald said. “In fact, the committee and the full House this year passed a bill by committee Vice Chairman Frank Lucas, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, to accomplish these goals.”
“It’s terrific that EPA chief Scott Pruitt is taking this long overdue step to eliminate the Obama EPA practice of stacking scientific advisory boards in order for them to rubberstamp EPA overregulation as science-based,” Steve Milloy, lawyer and author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA,” told Western Wire.
“For too long EPA paid outside scientists to publish agency friendly ‘science’ and then had the very same scientists review and approve their own research under the guise of independent peer review,” Milloy said.
Milloy, who served on the Trump EPA transition team, praised the work of the Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, for calling attention to this EPA practice, which Milloy called “corrupt” in a March 2012 op-ed.
“Senator Inhofe and the House Science Committee have been big champions of fixing this broken, if not illegal system. But their efforts have been thwarted by Senate Democrats trying to protect the unlawful EPA. This has left the task up to EPA chief Pruitt who is now taking action,” Milloy said.
“Chairman Smith looks forward to the official announcement from Administrator Pruitt next week and is supportive of his efforts to restore independence and objectivity to the advisory boards,” McDonald said.
In February 2016, Inhofe wrote to Obama’s EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, criticizing the lack of transparency and what he characterized as a revolving door, with EPA grant recipients receiving the prestigious appointments.
“I have observed EPA, under the Obama Administration, cherry-picking the same allies to serve on this advisory committee and its subcommittees at the expense of having an open and robust process for selecting external advisors,” said Inhofe. He pointed specifically to those chosen by EPA for its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).
“The majority of CASAC members have also received considerable financial support from EPA, which calls into question their independence and therefore the integrity of the overall panel,” Inhofe wrote.
Milloy’s 2012 research demonstrated that six of the seven CASAC members at the time had received or were still receiving research grant funding totaling nearly $80 million.
Milloy’s investigation was prompted by an exchange at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing that same year, when Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) pressed then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on whether such a practice yielded scientific objectivity, or was, as he outlined, inappropriate for the scientific advisory board.
“You fund research with grants to people who also serve on your review committees. Is this a conflict of interest? Almost every single member of your Clean Air Science Advisory Committee has been directly or indirectly funded for research,” Barton said. “This hand-and-glove policymaking by those appointed to also do your research and being funded by you at the same time is not appropriate. They are often asked to review other research they themselves were a party to on the original research team. How could one possibly expect them to be objective in any way?”