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Litigation

Court affirms US EPA policy barring grant recipients from serving as advisers

Agency administrator has broad discretion to determine makeup of science advisory panels, court says

by Cheryl Hogue
February 13, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 7

 

A federal trial court is upholding a policy that bars US Environmental Protection Agency research grant recipients from serving as EPA science advisers.

Former EPA head Scott Pruitt acted legally in issuing the policy, which effectively allowed the agency to add more industry experts to the panels, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Feb. 12. Under federal law, the court explained, “Agency heads have broad discretion over the composition of advisory committees.”

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who took over after Pruitt resigned amid a dozen investigations last year, has maintained the policy. Wheeler’s appointment to replace Pruitt is pending Senate confirmation.

Three health advocacy groups and three scientists who served, or who hoped to serve, as science advisers filed the lawsuit after the policy change in late 2017. They include a scientist who was removed from the agency’s flagship Science Advisory Board because she receives EPA research funding.

“EPA and the public are losing some of the best scientific advice by excluding top scientists who receive EPA grants,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney from Earthjustice, an nonprofit legal group that represents the plaintiffs.

The opinion by Judge Trevor N. McFadden said federal statutes “do not explicitly require EPA to appoint the ‘most qualified’ scientists or make subject matter expertise the ‘principle factor in determining membership.’ ”

The plaintiffs are considering an appeal, Earthjustice says.

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