On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency fired at least five scientists that sat on the agency's Board of Science Counselors — a major scientific review board, according to the New York Times. The decision is President Donald Trump's latest, and perhaps most damning effort to dismantle the EPA, as its administrator Scott Pruitt intends to replace the scientists with fossil fuel industry insiders that could directly benefit the agencies they are supposed to regulate.
J. P. Freire, a spokesperson for the EPA, told the Times that Pruitt believes "we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community." This means that academic scientists will be replaced by "representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast," the Times reported. Six weeks ago a bill passed the House of Representatives that aims to change another of the agencies scientific review board, hoping to fill the spots with corporate insiders.
Since taking office, Trump, who chooses to neglect the science of climate change, has directed Pruitt, who blatantly denies the science of climate change, to make major changes to the EPA including deep cuts to its budget, and rolling back former President Obama's landmark regulations to help create a safer environment.
Freire said that the EPA wants to "expand the pool of applicants" for the scientific board typically reserved for well, you know, scientists. The reasoning behind the decision involves creating an equal opportunity — imagine that. The new applicant range will be "as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented," Freire said, according to the Times.
Critics are not buying the Trump administration's rhetoric."This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda," Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Times.
“What seems to be premature removals of members of this Board of Science Counselors when the board has come out in favor of the E.P.A. strengthening its climate science, plus the severe cuts to research and development — you have to see all these things as interconnected," he added.
The Board of Science Counselors contains 18 members, and despite being told by officials in January that their terms would be renewed, five members received emails notifying them that their three-year terms had expired.
“Most of us on the council are academic people,” Ponisseril Somasundaran, a Columbia University chemist who focuses on managing hazardous waste, told the Times. “I think they want to bring in business and industry people.”
Here's what the Times noted was the importance of the panel:
The board is charged with reviewing and evaluating the research conducted by the agency’s scientists. Those studies are used by government regulators to draft rules and restrictions on everything from hazardous waste dumped in water to the emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change.
Members of the board say they have reviewed the E.P.A.’s scientific research on the public health impact of leaking underground fuel tanks, the toxicity of the chemicals used to clean up oil spills, and the effects of the spread of bark beetles caused by a warming climate.
In just one year, there were 745 oil spills were reported in North Dakota.