Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will replace them with voices from regulated industry, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states, and researchers who have critiqued tighter environmental regulations.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is poised to make wholesale changes to the agency’s key advisory group, jettisoning scientists who have received grants from the EPA and replacing them with industry experts and state government officials.
The move represents a fundamental shift, one that could change the scientific and technical advice that historically has guided the EPA as the agency crafts environmental regulations. The decision to bar any researcher who receives EPA grant money from serving as an adviser to the agency appears to be unprecedented.
A list of expected appointees for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), obtained by The Washington Post from multiple individuals familiar with the appointments, includes several categories of experts — voices from regulated industry, academics and environmental regulators from conservative states and researchers who have a history of critiquing the science and economics underpinning tighter environmental regulations. They would replace a number of scientists who now receive grants from the agency, or whose terms are not being renewed.
Terry Yosie, who served as director of the advisory board during the Reagan administration, said the changes “represent a major purge of independent scientists and a decision to sideline the SAB from major EPA decision-making in the future.”
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The EPA could not immediately be reached for comment, but Pruitt suggested in a speech this month at the Heritage Foundation that he planned to rid the agency’s scientific advisory boards of researchers who receive EPA grants. He argued that the current structure raises questions about their independence, though he did not voice similar objections to industry-funded scientists.
Among the likely appointees are sharp proponents of deregulation, who have argued both in academic circles and while serving in government that federal regulators need to raise the bar before imposing new burdens on the private sector.
John Graham, who now serves as dean of the University of Indiana’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, launched a major deregulatory push while head of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under George W. Bush. He repeatedly informed agencies that they had not sufficiently justified the rules they wanted to enact, and established a petition process under the Data Quality act that allowed petitioners to ask agencies to withdraw information that did not meet OMB standards for “quality, objectivity, utility and integrity.”
Anne Smith, who serves as managing director of NERA Economic Consulting and co-heads its environmental practice, belongs to a firm that has done extensive work from groups that fought the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda.
At least three of the new appointees have a background working for large corporations whose activities are or could potentially be regulated by the EPA, including the French oil giant Total, Phillips 66 and the large utility the Southern Co.
One of the members, Larry Monroe, was previously chief environmental officer at the Southern Co., one of the U.S.’ largest utilities, with millions of customers in the U.S. Southeast. There, Monroe had particular expertise in how the EPA regulated emissions from coal-fired power plants and had criticized the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which Pruitt is now trying to roll back.
In addition, the group of new appointees includes those who have, like Pruitt, battled the EPA in the past. They include Michael Honeycutt, head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division, who has suggested that the health risks associated with smog are overstated. Another member is Donald van der Vaart, the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, who has called Obama-era efforts to slash carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and regulate water quality in the nation’s rivers and wetlands “glaring examples of federal overreach.”