EPA sued for keeping scientists off advisory committees

EPA sued for keeping scientists off advisory committees

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was reportedly sued on Monday by a nonprofit over a directive keeping many scientists off of agency advisory panels, according to Reuters

The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), alleges that an Oct. 31, 2017, directive from former EPA chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Trump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Overnight Energy: Former EPA chiefs say Trump has abandoned agency's mission | Trump in Iowa touts ethanol and knocks Biden | Greens sue Trump over drilling safety rollbacks | FDA downplays worries over 'forever chemicals' MORE overturned decades of EPA practices “for no good reason” and without required public comment.

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The NRDC claimed that the directive has been used to remove qualified scientists from the agency's roughly 23 advisory committees, allowing EPA to replace scientific advisers with industry representatives, Reuters reported.

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group seeks to set aside the directive and all decisions that have been based on it.

A spokesperson for the EPA told The Hill it does not comment on pending litigation.

Pruitt's 2017 directive bars anyone who receives EPA grant money from serving on advisory panels, citing a need for the committees to be more independent.

The former EPA chief, who resigned in July 2018 amid a growing number of ethics and spending scandals, argued that serving on a committee like the Science Advisory Board would be a conflict of interest for someone receiving agency money to conduct scientific research.

“We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process, and that the scientists who are advising us are doing so with not any type of appearance of conflict," Pruitt said at the time. "And when you receive that much money … there’s a question that arises about independence."

Opponents countered that Pruitt wanted to increase representation from the fossil fuel industry and other Trump administration allies on the influential committees.

Since the directive took effect, representation for regulated industries and their allies has grown on the committees, at the expense of academics and researchers, The Hill reported in February.

A legal challenge to the directive fell short that month.

Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee to the District Court for the District of Columbia, dismissed the lawsuit from public health groups, saying it does not dictate who can be appointed to advisory boards.

The laws and regulations at issue “do not dictate whom administrators must, or even should, appoint to federal advisory committees,” McFadden wrote in a ruling dismissing the case.

“To say that certain individuals may not serve is very different than saying that the rest must serve," he wrote. "Agency heads retain substantial discretion to determine membership on federal advisory committees.”