After just a few weeks on the job, Michael Regan, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, is shaking up membership on two influential scientific advisory committees. Regan announced March 31 that he is eliminating all members of the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and directing EPA staff to reconfigure the panels with a more balanced mix of expertise.
The move comes after 4 years of the Trump administration dismantling various panels and excluding members who received grant money from the EPA in favor of members with ties to industry. “Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment,” Regan says in a statement.
The EPA is encouraging members released from the committees to reapply if they are still interested in serving. It is unclear how many of the 44 members of the EPA’s SAB and 7 members of CASAC will do so. Members typically serve for 3 years with the possibility of renewing their membership for an additional 3 years. The SAB advises the EPA in areas such as drinking water, hydraulic fracturing, and chemical risk assessments. CASAC advises the agency on national ambient air quality standards, including those for particulate matter and ozone.
Critics of the Trump administration’s policies welcome the EPA’s abrupt reconfiguring of the two panels. The committees “had been so compromised and so distorted” that the EPA “really needed a full reset to bring in a healthy mix of scientists into the reviews,” says Chris Zarba, former director of the EPA’s SAB staff office, who retired from the agency in 2018. The Trump administration made changes “to such an extent that it was basically designed to give industry or special interests the kind of answers they wanted to get from the reviews,” Zarba says.
The EPA’s action marks “an important sea change in the way that EPA is valuing science advice,” says Genna Reed, a senior analyst with the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists. Over the past 4 years, the EPA excluded experts from the committees and ignored their advice “rather than use their input to inform critical agency decisions,” she says.
In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, praises the EPA’s advisory committees for consistently offering “objective, balanced, and science-based advice.” The ACC acknowledges the concerns about changes to the SAB made by the Trump administration, but it calls Regan’s action to reconstitute the panel “irregular.”