Environmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels

Environmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels
© Getty Images

Environmental groups on Thursday appealed a court decision in their attempt to end the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) policy of excluding certain scientists from serving on its advisory boards.

“The Trump administration is simply trying to payback its polluter cronies by gutting sound science that our health and environmental protections rely on,” Neil Gormley, an attorney with Earthjustice, wrote in a statement announcing the appeal filed in the D.C. Circuit Court.

The appeal stems from a controversial policy enacted in 2017 under former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCourt sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues Scientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change MORE, who argued that scientists who receive agency grants would have a conflict of interest and shouldn’t be allowed to serve on various scientific panels that advise the EPA.

The move outraged science and environmental advocates who countered that the policy would sideline some of the nation’s top researchers while paving the way for industry-funded scientists to gain more influence at the EPA.

A July report from the Government Accountability Office found the EPA increased the number of industry representatives and consultants on its top scientific board and failed to ensure the appointees met ethics requirements.

But the Trump administration has already had a victory in court.

A judge previously ruled that the scientists involved in the case have no recourse because EPA’s decision is not subject to court review.

Earthjustice argues the EPA’s rule on conflicts of interest violates ethics rules and the procedure for changing them.

EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment.

A similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council was filed in June. That case is still being litigated.

The legal battles come at a time when many critics argue that such committees are under attack by the Trump administration.

A recent executive order signed by Trump directs all federal agencies to cut their advisory boards by at least one-third.

Those boards are often filled by people considered to be at the top of their fields who can provide important technical advice to various departments as they consider crafting a wide variety of policies.

Tensions between the boards and the agencies they advise have been particularly high at the EPA.

Members of the Science Advisory Board recently pushed back on the administration's efforts to bar consideration of studies that don't make their underlying data public.