The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reportedly dismissed several members of a key scientific advisory panel, just weeks after lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a pair of bills designed to change how the agency conducts its research.
According to reports, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began making changes to the agency's Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) last Friday, but it was unclear how many of the board's 18 members have been dismissed. The New York Times reported that "at least five members" of the panel were affected, but the Washington Post said half of the board will be replaced. Both media outlets reported that the affected board members were near the end of three-year terms, which are often renewed.
"Advisory panels like BOSC play a critical role reviewing the agency's work," EPA spokesman J.P. Freire told NGI on Tuesday. "EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees -- including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel -- and carry out a competitive nomination process."
Freire did not clarify how many BOSC members were affected, but he told the Post that "no one has been fired or terminated." In comments to the Post, he posited that Pruitt was merely bringing in new advisors, while also taking a swipe at the previous administration.
"We're not going to rubber-stamp the last administration's appointees," Freire said. "Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool. This approach is what was always intended for the board, and we're making a clean break with the last administration's approach."
According to EPA's website, BOSC has approximately 20 members. Its mission is to advise EPA's Office of Research and Development on the technical and management issues related to its research programs.
Last March, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology passed HR 1430, also known as the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act of 2017. The bill called for prohibiting EPA "from proposing, finalizing or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible."
HR 1430 includes a provision requiring EPA to use "the best available science" in its covered actions, and to ensure that those actions are "publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results."
Meanwhile, HR 1431, also known as the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act of 2017, requires that the SAB have at least nine members, at least 10% of whom must represent state, local or tribal governments. SAB members would have three-year terms, with the terms staggered so that no more than one-third of the membership has expiring terms within a single fiscal year.
Both bills passed along partisan lines in late March, but neither has been introduced in the Senate.
In a blog post Tuesday, the Sierra Club claimed that Pruitt removed nine BOSC members "and wants to replace them with members of the fossil fuel industry."