When EPA leader Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a director that prohibited legitimate scientists from serving on the EPA’s advisory board, a red flag started flying within the scientific community. Why would Pruitt want to silence the scientists who received funding from the agency? Why would he want to weaken their stance in the environmental community? On Wednesday, scientists filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for “attempting to delegitimize science.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is a nonprofit advocacy group, led the suit. Dr. Elizabeth “Lianne” Sheppard is a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and a member of the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. She argues that Pruitt’s “arbitrary” directive was “an attempt to delegitimize science” and cannot be allowed in the twenty-first century.
The lawsuit calls Pruitt’s direct “an attack on science itself, as it portrays legitimate, independent scientists ― who provide accurate, evidence-based information backed by verifiable, peer-reviewed research in order to inform environmental policy ― as just another interest group seeking to advance an agenda.”
Even Steve Bannon, Trump’s former top White House strategist agreed that Pruitt was put at the top of the EPA to destroy it from the inside.
Not only was Pruitt’s directive a tactic to delegitimized science, the suit argues that it violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act. This 1972 law requires that EPA commits be balanced in a fair way and “not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest.”
What Pruitt is doing will strip the EPA’s advisory committees of qualified scientists so that it can be filled with Republican pawns.
“I am committed to serving on federal advisory committees because I believe this is one of the most effective ways for me to use my scientific expertise to promote public health,” Dr. Sheppard said in a statement Wednesday. “This directive forces me to choose between my own work and my commitment to the public.”
Pruitt’s new directive puts scientists in a tight spot. If they want to receive grant money, they cannot be on the EPA boards. If they want to be on the EPA board, they cannot receive grant money.
Dr. Sheppard told Huffington Post that she was forced to refuse a $3 million grant that her university received from the EPA because she needed to stay on the advisory board. The funding was meant to further studies into how air pollution affects the cardiovascular system.
“I’ve been working on the study for over ten years,” Sheppard said. “So, yeah, I would like to continue to work on that study ― absolutely. … The EPA already has good processes in place to review and manage conflicts of interest, and I don’t think this directive contributes to that.”
EPA funding and grants from other government institutions are vital to the success of scientists and scientific organization.
Pruitt argues his band will “strengthen member independence,” scientists see it as a way for the EPA to remove concerned scientists and fill advisory spots with industry-friendly representatives or people who would not hesitate to destroy the environment.