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Litigation

US EPA won’t appeal court ruling against its policy on science advisers

Agency lays out another route it can use to bar grant recipients from serving

by Cheryl Hogue
June 26, 2020

20200626lnp1-epa.jpg
Credit: Shutterstock
US Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC

The US Environmental Protection Agency says it won’t appeal a court ruling invalidating its controversial policy banning recipients of EPA grants from serving as agency science advisers. But the agency hints that it may try another means to exclude grant recipients from its advisory panels.

A federal trial court in New York struck down the policy in April, saying the agency failed to follow required federal procedure when it adopted the policy in 2017.

Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had instituted the directive, before he left the agency amid scandal in 2018. Pruit said the policy would ensure that advisers are financially independent from the agency. He replaced academic grant recipients on EPA advisory panels with industry representatives and state regulators.

The court’s decision did not affect the current makeup of those panels.

In a June 24 statement, the EPA announced that it would not appeal the decision by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in a case brought by the environmental group National Resources Defense Council. The court determined the agency had “failed to articulate any reason for changing its longstanding practice of permitting EPA grant recipients to serve on EPA advisory committees.” The court found the agency had provided no evidence that grant recipients who had served on advisory committees in recent decades were biased.

But the EPA says the court’s reasoning empowers the agency to issue a blanket prohibition against grant recipients from serving as science advisers if it issues a formal regulation that garners concurrence from the federal Office of Government Ethics. That office’s mission is to prevent and resolve conflict-of-interest issues in the executive branch.

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