EPA science chair ‘surprised’ by dismissal of advisers

EPA science chair ‘surprised’ by dismissal of advisers
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The chairwoman of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) science panel told lawmakers Tuesday that she was “surprised” by the agency’s dismissal of several scientific advisers earlier this month. 

The EPA did not renew the terms for nine members of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) earlier in May. Agency officials have said they hoped to add to the board more representatives from industries regulated by the EPA.

The plan angered Democrats and scientists, who said such a decision would water down the quality of the science that underpins the agency’s rulemaking. After the dismissals, two members of a BOSC subcommittee resigned in protest

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Deborah Swackhamer, the chairwoman of BOSC, said the dismissals “surprised” her and others because the agency traditionally renews the terms of its scientific advisers if they wish to stay at the agency. 

“I’m obviously concerned,” Swackhamer told the House Science Committee on Tuesday. 

“My committee is no longer populated, so I’m anxious to make sure it gets repopulated as quickly as possible.” 

Swackhamer — who emphasized that she was testifying personally and not on behalf of the board — said she is “troubled by the fact that there is an intent to politicize and marginalize the science” in the Trump administration. 

“Policy is by its nature political,” she said. “But the science should never be politicized. … My personal fear is that the actions taken by the federal government are, in fact, diminishing the role of science.”

The EPA has said the former BOSC members can reapply for their positions on the board and that their applications will be considered along with the hundreds of others the agency receives. 

The EPA's use of science has become a political issue on Capitol Hill. 

Democrats have slammed the EPA’s decision not to renew the scientists’ membership in BOSC. Rep. Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciLawmakers, media serve up laughs at annual 'Will on the Hill' Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Overnight Energy: Two top Pruitt aides resign at EPA | 17 states sue EPA over car emissions rules | Volkswagen to pay West Virginia .5M over emissions cheating MORE (D-Ore.) on Tuesday said the decision has highlighted "an increased proclivity towards promoting corporate interests over the interests of the public.”

But Republicans have supported the decision to cycle the BOSC’s membership. The House also passed a bill earlier this year requiring more industry voices on certain EPA science panels.  

“Under the previous administration, science advisory panels and boards at the EPA were packed with ‘experts’ of one mindset, acting as a rubber stamp to the agency’s agenda,” House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Tuesday, noting some science advisers have gotten grants from the agency.

“This administration is returning EPA to its rightful agenda of relying on good science, not cherry-picked or non-existent science.”