Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves The EPA and some changes happening in the agency.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will purge more than 40 outside experts appointed under former president Donald Trump from two key advisory panels, a move Regan says will help restore the role of science at the agency and reduce the heavy influence of industry over environmental regulations.
The advisory boards, created by Congress, are designed to provide federal policymakers with the best advice from experts from a range of backgrounds. Members typically serve three year terms. Their recommendations, though not binding, carry weight inside the agency.
The decision, which was announced on Wednesday, will sweep away outside researchers picked under the previous administration whose expert advice helped the agency craft regulations related to air pollution, the oil and gas extraction method known as fracking and other issues.
The Trump administration ended up rescinding the restriction on grant recipients after being ordered to do so last year by a federal court. But it didn’t change any of its appointments after the ruling. Trump administration illegally barred academics who received EPA grants from serving on them. The administration had argued that scientists who received research funding would not be impartial in their advice. But environmental and public health advocates, along with some former career officials within the agency, said the policy effectively elevated experts from industry while muzzling independent scientists. The Trump administration ended up rescinding the restriction on grant recipients after being ordered to do so last year by a federal court. But it didn’t change any of its appointments after the ruling.
The EPA is calling for new applications for the two panels. Nick Conger, an EPA spokesman, said advisers dropped from the committees are “eligible and encouraged to reapply” if they choose. Normally, the agency would have asked for new applications for a handful of the positions later this year.
The action on Wednesday is one of several steps Regan says are necessary to rebuild the scientific integrity of the EPA and restore staff morale. It comes as the White House this week launched a government wide assessment of past political interference in science. Regan recently, for instance, revived an EPA webpage on climate change deleted during Trump’s first weeks in office. And in a memo to staff last week, he said the agency is reviewing policies that impeded science and is encouraging career employees to “bring any items of concern” to the attention of scientific integrity officials as they review Trump era actions.
On the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, Trump-picked members advised the EPA to keep the standards for ozone at the current level, even as public health experts outside the agency argued that they should be tightened to help protect poor and minority communities. The agency followed the committee’s advice and declined to issue stricter standards for the smog forming pollutant, which has been linked to asthma and lung disease. The boards did push back against the Trump administration, such as when the Science Advisory Board determined that a major repeal of a water pollution rule did “not incorporate best available science.” The clean air panel was split on whether to recommend tougher rules for particulate matter, another pollutant emitted by power plants and cars. The agency ultimately decided last year against ratcheting up the rules, even as evidence accumulated that soot raised the risk of dying of covid-19.
The Biden administration said the move is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government after what it characterizes as a concerted effort under the previous president to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the novel coronavirus and other issues..But former Republican administration officials accused the Biden team of hypocrisy, saying it is undermining, rather than restoring, confidence in the agency by kicking out those with contrary views.