Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has abruptly dismissed as many as half the members of a key scientific review board, and is seeking to replace them with representatives of the very industries the agency is tasked with policing.
"Today, I was Trumped," wrote Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University and former member of the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, on Friday afternoon.
Today, I was Trumped. I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.— Robert Richardson (@ecotrope) May 5, 2017
The New York Times, which spoke to other people who were dismissed, reported Sunday that the terminations came as a surprise to the scientists, who were told by the agency prior to President Donald Trump's inauguration that their terms would be renewed.
"I believe this is political," said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, whose research focuses on how communities respond to environmental disruptions such as exposure to toxic pollution, forest fires, and climate change. "It's unexpected. It's a red flag."
"This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda."
—Ken Kimmell, Union of Concerned Scientists
Richardson further told the Washington Post: "I've never heard of any circumstance where someone didn't serve two consecutive terms." He said the dismissals gave him "great concern that objective science is being marginalized in this administration."
The Board of Scientific Counselors, according to E & E News, "is tasked with reviewing the work of EPA scientists and provides feedback that can be a powerful voice in shaping the agency's future research." E & E News said 12 people had been dismissed of the 18-member board.
A spokesman for Pruitt told the Times that "[t]he administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community."
In other words, Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell told the paper: "This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda."
Another win for that agenda came in late March, when the U.S. House passed a bill to overhaul the EPA's larger Scientific Advisory Board, which is considered the agency's other major scientific review panel. As The Hill reported at the time, the legislation "would change membership requirements for the [board] to include more industry voices, expanding financial and conflict of interest disclosure requirements and giving the public the chance to more readily comment on the board's actions."
One member of that panel, University of Michigan environmental scientist Joseph Arvai, told the Times that he considers the most recent dismissals from the Board of Scientific Counselors as "a test balloon"—and his board is next in the crosshairs. "This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further," he said.
"The EPA," Arvai wrote Monday online, "is slowly turning its back on everything it was set up to protect."