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EPA Lawsuit filed on January 24, 2018
DOI Advisory Board Members resigned on January 16, 2018

Summary

Earlier this month, The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Protect Democracy sued EPA Secretary Pruitt for blocking scientists who receive EPA funding from being on advisory boards within the agency. Pruitt announced this unprecedented shift back in October 2017 without any window for public comment, citing a potential conflict of interest as the reason for the change. No further explanation has been given for why leaders in the scientific community cannot contribute their expertise to the EPA and its policies. The UCS says that this violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets guidelines for balanced government advisories that are untainted by the viewpoint of the appointing authority. Pruitt has filled these advisory board openings with industry-funded scientists instead, causing further alarm within the academic community.

Meanwhile, in the Department of the Interior, nine of the twelve National Parks System Advisory Board members resigned their posts as a means of protesting Secretary Zinke and the acts of the DOI. A tenth member submitted her resignation the following day. In the resignation letter, former board chair and former Governor of Alaska Tony Knowles said that Zinke had disregarded the legal partnership between the board and the department. In a later interview he said that Zinke had “stonewalled” their efforts to address pressing issues of climate change and environmental protections by refusing to meet with them. A recent report by the UCS reviewed the 73 advisory boards within six federal agencies and found that these boards met less in 2017 than any other year since 1997, when the government starting keeping records. Almost two-thirds of those boards have met less than their charter recommends.

Analysis

In their press release regarding the legal action, Protect Democracy called Pruitt’s move “an attack on science itself,” as well as an abuse of power. Since the EPA is one of the largest funders of environmental and public health research, scientists face a choice between public service and continuing important scientific research with this board overhaul, which could lead to some of the brightest scientific minds stepping down from EPA advising. One member called the advisory boards “one of the most effective ways for me to use my scientific expertise to promote public health,” but goes on to say that this directive necessitates a decision between his own work and serving the public. One plaintiff says the order goes further by “caus[ing] significant harm to the public interest” by replacing these scientists with those who work for the industries and companies that the EPA is designed to regulate. As a self-designated champion of national parks, Zinke has also shone a lack of desire for scientific input, largely relying on industry leaders for advice on national monument size and offshore oil regulation. Neither the EPA or the DOI responded immediately to the respective lawsuit and resignations. DOI Spokeswoman Heather Swift has since stated that the “boards have restarted” without any further explanation and Pruitt has maintained that he is committed the EPA’s scientific integrity.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact megan@usresistnews.org.


 

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