EPA's Scott Pruitt drains the swamp like no one else in Washington

EPA's Scott Pruitt drains the swamp like no one else in Washington
© Getty

EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE is a man who gets things done. Despite resistance from within his own agency and an environment lobby bent on stopping him, he’s doing his part to drain the swamp and return government to the people. He’s bringing what citizens demand of a federal agency: Transparency and reasoned, fact-based decision-making resting on sound statutory footing.

Take the contentious issue of global warming. Pruitt called for a reasoned debate. But his critics mocked the suggestion, claiming it would be an outrage to place “fringe” views on an even platform with “established, peer-reviewed research.” But it is tyrants and mobs — not reasonable policymakers intent on serving the public — who ridicule debate and discussion. It undercuts arbitrary rule and fear, their chief weapons.

ADVERTISEMENT
Consider Pruitt’s recent directive prohibiting scientists from serving on one of the agency’s three main advisory panels while they are receiving EPA grant funding. It applies to the three main advisory boards at the EPA: The Science Advisory Board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), and the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC).

Pruitt made the case that the directive is necessary to ensure the agency’s research programs are informed by independent experts with no financial ties to the programs. As he noted, advisory board members have received $77 million in grant money over the past three years — half of the total amount allotted. “When we have members of those committees that received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they are advising this agency on rulemaking, that is not good,” Pruitt said. His directive is prudent, and it is the type of common-sense safeguard that citizens expect in a self-governed republic.

In contrast, the resistance of the EPA’s bureaucracy and its apologists shows arrogant contempt for the citizen. Board member and chair of BOSC, Deborah Swackhamer, seemingly unfazed by these relationships, labeled Pruitt’s directive as “clearly political” and suggested it is an attempt to effectively stack the committees with members who disagree with her (although she didn’t put it quite that way).

What’s really going on at EPA is the swamp draining that needs to happen across the federal bureaucracy. It is a death-fight (meant figuratively) for bureaucrats intent at reshaping society according to their world-view. To do so, they need to maintain an appearance that scientific consensus supports their views.

Take, for example, the Clean Air Act (CAA) under which the EPA regulates the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. In Massachusetts vs. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that, in order to regulate air pollutants from any class of new motor vehicles, the EPA must first make a judgment that the new vehicles “cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” If such a determination is made, the CAA requires the EPA to regulate such emissions. However, if the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision, then the EPA would not have the authority to regulate. In 2009, the EPA made such a determination, also known as an endangerment finding, on the emission of six greenhouse gases including CO2.

Does the state of current, or for that matter past, scientific knowledge support that finding?

The tempest over Pruitt’s calls for objective research illustrates the government’s longstanding politicization of scientific research. The truth is that federally funded research agencies have used federal grant money to politicize research, including on the issue of global warming. Much of the “consensus” that global warming is human-caused, which the Obama administration relied on to justify the Clean Power Plan and other regulatory matters, was bought and paid for by federal research agencies with an agenda.

Dr. Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, testified in 2015 before a Senate subcommittee that federal funding in many cases dictates the outcome of research. She explained that the professors in the sciences, eager for research funding, often jettison their standards of scientific inquiry to pursue these grants, and in the process become “another lobbyist group” for whatever the feds are funding:

‘Success’ to individual researchers, particularly at the large state universities, pretty much equates to research dollars — big lab spaces, high salaries, institutional prestige, and career advancement. At the Program Manager level within a funding agency, ‘success’ is reflected in growing the size of their program. ... Divisional administrators are competing for budget dollars against the other Divisions; tying their research to a national policy priority helps in this competition. At the agency level, ‘success’ is reflected in growing, or at least preserving, the agency’s budget.

And during the Obama administration, what type of research was the government willing to pay for? According to Curry, when calling for projects to fund, the federal funding agencies “make an implicit assumption of the dominance of human caused global warming.” The agenda was clear in the calls for climate-research proposals, and professors responded as expected. The result: “consensus.”

But, as Pruitt commented, the focus at EPA should be “sound science, not political science.” His approach should be emulated by the other agencies.

Emmett McGroarty and Erin Tuttle work for American Principles Project. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book “Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty.”