In what climate researchers and activists are denouncing as a blatant call to "purge" the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of experts who refuse to toe the fossil fuel industry line, EPA chief Scott Pruitt told the conservative Heritage Foundation on Tuesday that he is planning to rid his agency's advisory boards of scientists who have received federal grants, arguing that such funding compromises the "independence" of their work.
"Now the only scientists on Pruitt's good list will be those with funding from polluters supporting Trump's agenda to make America toxic again."
—Jennifer Sass, Natural Resources Defense Council
Climate experts and advocacy groups quickly pushed back. Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), highlighted the fact that Pruitt never questions the independence of scientists bankrolled by big polluters.
This fact, Sass argued, lays bare Pruitt's "single goal," which she said is to "get rid of scientists who tell us the facts about threats to our environment and health."
"Now the only scientists on Pruitt's good list will be those with funding from polluters supporting Trump's agenda to make America toxic again," Sass concluded.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, echoed Sass's criticism of Pruitt's proposed move, which he slammed as "gobsmackingly boneheaded."
Halpern went on to note that for years "serial scientist harasser" Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has been attempting to pass the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, which would bar scientists who have received EPA grants from serving on the agency's advisory boards. While the legislation has never gained sufficient steam, it appears that Pruitt—who met with Smith to discuss the bill back in April—is taking on the job of barring such scientists himself.
"So let's recap: According to some, scientists who receive money from oil and chemical companies are perfectly qualified to provide the EPA with independent science advice, while those who receive federal grants are not," Halperian concluded. "It's a fundamental misrepresentation of how conflicts of interest work."
Pruitt told the Heritage Foundation that he plans to make these new standards official EPA policy with a directive some time next week.
Over the last several months, Pruitt's agency has been soliciting candidates for positions on its advisory board, and informing scientists currently advising the EPA that their contracts will not be renewed.
According to the Washington Post, a "list of 132 possible candidates for board positions, published by the agency, included numerous people who have questioned mainstream research about the causes and severity of climate change."
One candidate, the Post notes, has accused environmentalists and climate researchers of peddling "scare tactics and junk science," and another has claimed that dumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will "confer great benefits upon future inhabitants of the globe" by promoting plant growth.