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Policy

Trump EPA dismisses half of scientific advisory group

Unexpected move surprises members who review agency research programs

by Jessica Morrison
May 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 20

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Credit: EPA
The Board of Scientific Counselors reviews EPA’s in-house research, including investigations into the sources and effects of water pollution. Here, agency scientist Jana Compton adds a small amount of nitrate and a red dye, which is used for tracking, to a stream as part of a study of nitrogen removal within the waterway.
An EPA scientist adds a red dye to a stream.
Credit: EPA
The Board of Scientific Counselors reviews EPA’s in-house research, including investigations into the sources and effects of water pollution. Here, agency scientist Jana Compton adds a small amount of nitrate and a red dye, which is used for tracking, to a stream as part of a study of nitrogen removal within the waterway.

A membership shake-up in an Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory council could be a sign of more changes to come at the regulatory agency, policy experts are saying.

In an unusual action, EPA did not grant nine of the 18 members on its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) a second three-year term. An additional four were already scheduled to rotate off the board this year due to term limits, BOSC chairwoman and environmental chemist Deborah L. Swackhamer tells C&EN. Composed of scientists from outside the agency, the board reviews technical and management issues related to EPA’s in-house research.

The unexpected dismissals and statements from EPA officials leave Swackhamer and others concerned that the agency will open itself to potential conflicts of interest by filling the vacant slots with members from regulated industries.

EPA spokesman J.P. Freire says the agency has received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and the agency intends to “carry out a competitive nomination process.”

Gretchen Goldman, research director of the Center for Science & Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is watching to see what the move portends for other scientific review groups at the agency. These include the Science Advisory Board, whose work is more closely tied to policy outcomes than BOSC’s, she says.

The move is another way that the Trump Administration is trying to take science out of the regulatory process, Goldman asserts. “It builds on other actions that we’re seeing this administration take with respect to science and science advisors.”

With their diminished numbers, BOSC’s remaining five members may find their capacity to review the agency’s scientific research program limited, several board members tell C&EN.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, last week asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for more information about the dismissals. Carper says he is concerned that through this and other actions, EPA is engaging in “a broad approach of denying the science that forms the basis of sound environmental regulation.”

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