Energy & Environment

Court sides with scientists on EPA policy barring grantees from serving on agency boards

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A federal appeals court sided with scientists Monday, forcing a lower court to reconsider a case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to bar those who receive agency grants from sitting on its boards.

The policy in question was put forth by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, blocking scientists from serving on the agency’s esteemed Science Advisory Board (SAB). 

He argued that receiving money from EPA represented a conflict of interest that should barr scientists from evaluating agency policies. 

But critics sued, arguing it will leave EPA’s board stocked with those with ties to industry.

“When you get rid of the very scientists that EPA has decided do the most promising and relevant research, you’re going to skew those committees markedly, and that’s what’s happened,” said Michael Halpern, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which sued over the policy. 

“We’ve seen a significant increase in representation on these committees by scientists who work for industries with significant conflicts of interest, reducing the independence of these committees.”

Judges for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the union, writing that the law “clearly requires agency heads at least to consider whether new restraints on committee membership might inappropriately enhance special interest influence and to eschew such restraints when they do so.”

The case will return to the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, which previously dismissed the case, arguing that Pruitt’s policy fell within the agency’s discretion.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency will review the decision. 

A July report from the Government Accountability Office reviewing Pruitt’s policy found it decreased the number of academics sitting on the SAB. 

The report also found EPA did not follow the process for selecting the “best qualified and most appropriate candidates” for two committees that advise on environmental regulations, including the SAB, and also “did not ensure that all appointees met ethics requirements.”

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
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