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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 SherrillTim Ryan: Prosecutors reviewing video of Capitol tours given by lawmakers before riot Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington 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 PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule Restoring the EPA: Lessons from the past 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. MarshallPat Roberts joins lobbying firm weeks after Senate retirement Biden health nominee faces first Senate test Senate committee plans grid reliability hearing after Texas outages 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 panels underscore vaccine obstacles for minority groups House Democrat says the COVID-19 vaccination distribution is 'not an issue that should be tainted with politics' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden seeks vaccine for all by summer; Trump censure? 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.