Under president Trump and administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency is not staying true to its name — instead, it’s becoming more of an agency protecting the industry. The latest signal of this movement is the dismissal of at least five members of a major scientific review board, rumored to be replaced with industry representatives.

It’s ‘eyes on the prize’ for EPA’s administrator Scott Pruit, and the prize is the fossil fuel industry. Image credits: Gage Skidmore.

According to The New York Times, EPA spokesman J.P. Freire suggested that Scott Pruitt is not interested in maintaining the science-only direction of the board.

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire told the Times.

Freire said the agency wanted “to take as inclusive an approach to regulation as possible,” but his statement is little more than smoke and mirrors. For starters, the move was not announced or properly justified. Although all the scientists being dismissed are at the ends of their three-year terms, they are not political actors and the mandates are generally renewed, barring special circumstances. Still, Freire made it clear that this administration will do everything in its power to wipe the environmental legacy of the Obama administration.

“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool.” Freire added, “We’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”

Scientists have also been vocal against this action, seeing it as a political move which has nothing to do with protecting the environment.

“Most of us on the council are academic people,” said Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University who focuses on managing hazardous waste. “I think they want to bring in business and industry people.”

Indeed, it has to be said that this is not an isolated move. It’s not just the fact that president Trump has been vocal about undoing all things environmental or that he believes climate change to be a hoax, but the way his administration has been treating the EPA is very telling of their intentions. Right after he was elected, Trump has issued a media blackout at the EPA, and has ordered employees to remove the climate science pages from the website. Then, administrator Scott Pruit said he doesn’t believe CO2 causes climate change and is taking active steps towards lowering EPA regulations to according to industry lobby. This seems to be the main prize sought by Pruitt and Trump in this regard — favoring the fossil fuel industry.

“This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda,” said Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What seems to be premature removals of members of this Board of Science Counsellors when the board has come out in favour of the EPA strengthening its climate science, plus the severe cuts to research and development – you have to see all these things as interconnected.”

In this context, with all these moves adding up to this, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the EPA is being corrupted from the inside. The science is out there, but Pruitt and like-minded lawmakers in Congress are not interested in hearing it.

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counsellors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai, an environmental scientist at the University of Michigan who is on the Scientific Advisory Board. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

 

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