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.
 
 
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 employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses 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. MarshallPompeo tells McConnell he's not running for Senate Meat industry is trying to stifle plant-based food innovation Improving maternal health with data and care coordination 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 JohnsonFive environmental fights to watch in 2020 Pelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention What has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? 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.