WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency dismissed half the scientists who serve on a science review board that plays a crucial role in the work the EPA does, CNN has learned Monday.
The EPA relies heavily on the scientific guidance of the group when it comes to air and water quality when making policy decisions. An EPA spokesman told CNN there are a total of 18 positions on this particular advisory board, and nine of those scientists were not renewed following the end of their three-year term.
There is a notable ideological shift at the agency under the Trump administration and EPA head Scott Pruitt. Some in the scientific community say the dismissal of such a large number of scientists from the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors is further evidence of that.
Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy asked, “What’s the scientific reason for removing these individuals from this EPA science review board? It is rare to see such a large scale dismissal even in a presidential transition.”
She added, “The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics. This move by the EPA is inserting politics into science. ”
One scientist on the board said he had never before seen a person not reappointed to the board during a presidential transition.
An EPA spokesman disputed that anyone was dismissed, saying that individuals on the science review board are appointed for a single three-year term, and that those whose terms are not renewed can re-apply to serve again in the future.
In an emailed statement the EPA said, “EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees — including those nominated who may have previously served on the panel — and carry out a competitive nomination process.”
The EPA spokesperson said the agency wanted scientists from a more diverse background, including scientists from industry.
Some of the current scientists on the board received notification via email that they would not be reappointed.
“We have been informed that your appointments are not being renewed and that the Agency will carry out a competitive nomination process to solicit new members rather than reappointing individuals who have already served a three-year term,” read the message from the EPA sent to one scientist on the board and obtained by CNN.
Courtney Flint, a professor at Utah State University on the Board of Scientific Counselors, said in a statement Monday that the news she received Friday “came as a surprise.”
“I do not think I am speculating when I say that this is a political move,” she said. “I am hopeful that this advisory work can continue to be done by objective scientific experts that represent a cross-section of societal voices to inform policy.”
Pruitt has been attacked by critics for his closeness to the energy industry, raising concerns from environmentalists that he will move to replace the board members with more individuals from the energy sector.
“We are watching for how the process works to replace them,” Goldman said. “We see this as part of larger pattern of trying to remove science from the making of policy at EPA.”