Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is mounting “an attack on science” with a directive disqualifying scientists who receive federal grants for studies from serving on EPA boards, a group of scientists says in a federal lawsuit filed Jan. 23.
The Union of Concerned Scientists says Pruitt’s Oct. 31 order adds nothing to previous conflict-of-interest policies but has led to a purge of eminent scientists serving on federal advisory committees.
Pruitt, a Southern Baptist layman, used the Bible to justify the policy change, the lawsuit says.
“On the journey to the Promised Land, ‘Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,’” Pruitt said in introducing the rule last fall.
“This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or choose the grant,” he said. “But you can’t do both.”
The lawsuit says the intent of the change is to “amplify the influence of regulated industries at the EPA at the expense of the environment and public health.”
It calls the directive “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.”
The effect of removing impartial and qualified scientists affiliated with academic and not-for-profit institutions, the lawsuit says, is “that private industry views will be over weighted and the affected FACs will no longer be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view.”
Joshua Goldman, senior legal analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the directive “fundamentally undermines the EPA’s ability to carry out its mission of protecting all Americans.”
“When we ban America’s top scientists from providing their expertise to the EPA, we all suffer,” Goldman said. “EPA advisory boards examine vital questions, like what makes for unsafe levels of pollution in the air and the amount of chemical exposure that constitutes a health risk.”
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt was a leading critic of the EPA. A deacon at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., and former trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he is on record as a skeptic of the scientific consensus linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change.