Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has chosen to replace half of the members on one of its key scientific review boards, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the agency evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations. But with the end of the members' terms, he said the agency wanted a complete vetting of all of those nominated to serve on the board before deciding who serves, rather than simply renewing the appointments of those already on the panel. He said he is not sure which EPA official told the scientists they would be continuing to advise the agency, but 12 members were now dismissed.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has always been a fierce critic of the agency he now leads, saying its scientists often fail to weigh the cost of implementing new regulations on businesses. "EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees".
The spokesman told The New York Times "The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community".
NYT's Coral Davenport reported the move is the "latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency's regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research". "EPA is stressing here that this is supposed to be an open and competitive process; no one was ever supposed to be guaranteed a second term".
The dismissals came about six weeks after the House passed a bill aimed at changing the composition of another E.P.A. scientific review board to include more representation from the corporate world.
The agency has also removed some scientific data on climate change from its websites. 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.
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A flag hangs over an entrance to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington on April 22, 2017.
The move - which has been criticized by government watchdog groups and associations of scientists - is out of the playbook of U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who represents parts of Central and South Austin and who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
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.
The measure would effectively prevent many scientific experts from serving on the oversight board.
Conservative federal legislators have complained that the EPA's Scientific Advisory Board (a 47-member panel that works with the Board of Scientific Counselors) lacks "balance", although the board is independent and composed of relevant experts who can assess underlying science that informs EPA policy.