Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards

Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards
© Greg Nash

Scientists and Democratic lawmakers during a hearing Tuesday raised concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over actions by the Trump administration they say are having a negative impact on science boards. 

The hearing came a day after a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the agency skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to the boards.

Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee rattled off a list of issues with the EPA, from barring scientists with agency grants to serve on it’s Science Advisory Board, to a Trump administration executive order to kill one-third of advisory committees, to the Tuesday GAO report that showed how those boards with industry representatives and consultants have earned a more prominent role under the Trump presidency.
 
"Unfortunately, over the course of the last two and a half years, we have seen a multi-pronged attack on these committees," Rep. Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillOcasio-Cortez, Democrats blast GOP on House floor for 'culture' of sexism The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Fauci touts COVID-19 vaccine news Cash-strapped cities hammered by COVID-19 beg for federal help MORE (D-N.J.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said.
 
The GAO report found the Science Advisory Board was particularly impacted by the agency. Designed to be a collection of the nation’s top scientists, GAO found the EPA did not follow the process for selecting the “best qualified and most appropriate candidates” for two important committees that advise on environmental regulations and also “did not ensure that all appointees met ethics requirements.”

Thomas Burke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who previously served as the deputy administrator for the Office of Research and Development, said the Science Advisory Board is there to “make sure the agency does the right science and gets the science right.” 

A decision under former EPA administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic MORE barred those who receive EPA research grants from serving on the committee. There was no similar ban for scientists who receive industry funding.

“When you omit those folks from the talent pool of our national, most prestigious advisory board its a skewing that eliminates the best minds,” Burke said. “What other areas of science would you omit the best minds at the start and not consider the potential conflict of interest of people who have direct financial interest or have received compensation from companies that have a very big vested interest in the subject at hand?” 

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Some Republicans on the committee pushed back both at the accusations against the EPA and its boards as well as the hearing itself.

“I would almost take exception that the people on the committee are the best and the highest qualified,” said Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallMcConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week MORE (R-K.S.), saying in his experience in medicine, preeminent experts are already stretched too thin with other demands. He said the committee was a chance for former EPA employees to gripe about Trump’s executive order to eliminate many committees.

Committee Chair Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic Americans must have confidence federal agencies are using the best available science to confront coronavirus MORE (D-Texas) said Trump’s executive order was “clumsy at best and malicious at worst.” 

“There’s no reason to assume one-third of committees have outlived their usefulness,” she said.