Oil and gas industry reps who question the validity of climate change will be advising the EPA on policy for the foreseeable future.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced new members to his agency’s Science Advisory Board on Friday, a group of scientists who don’t work at EPA but advise the agency. Pruitt replaced 22 people on the 45-member board, and all but one of the appointees are from either the private sector or state regulatory agencies. The one academic Pruitt included, Robert Phallen, said in 2012 that “modern air is a little too clean for optimal health.”
Pruitt didn’t add any scientists receiving grants from the EPA, in line with a directive he issued earlier this week that barred them from ever serving on the board. The choices could mean he’s more interested in repealing than regulating, experts told VICE News.
“I have never seen anyone go after these boards. They’ve always kind of been off-limits,” said Kyla Bennett, who worked as the head of wetlands enforcement in EPA’s Northeast region for 10 years and now runs Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental watchdog group.
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“It’s not supposed to be groupthink”
The EPA doesn’t control the outcome of studies it commissions through its grants. The release of studies funded by industry, on the other hand, is controlled by industry. Tuesday’s announcement that EPA grant recipients wouldn’t be allowed to serve on the board cited bringing in “fresh perspectives” and adding “geographical diversity.”
“The board has always assumed that academicians who have to get money from some source have to get money from the federal government because no industry would be interested in funding them,” Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, told VICE News. She left her post as the director of science and technology in the EPA’s water office in August.
“They wanted a totally neutral, objective look at just the scientific issues that were brought before the board,” Southerland added. “It’s not supposed to be a groupthink.”
“I have never seen anyone go after these boards. They’ve always kind of been off limits.”
Also on Friday, the Trump administration allowed the release of a federal report that plainly states human activity is “extremely likely” the primary cause of global warming. That type of research might be harder to come by under the watchful eyes of Pruitt’s new board of industry advisers.
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Meet the board
Pruitt tapped Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at Texas Commission on Environment Quality, to lead the board. Honeycutt has consistently argued that chemicals are less harmful than most scientists think they are.
He also fought EPA ozone regulations, arguing that ozone isn’t dangerous because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”
Also on the board are:
- Anne Smith, managing director of NERA Economic Consulting, who wrote the study that found the Paris Agreement would cost 2.7 million jobs. After Trump cited those numbers as a reason to pull out of the deal (and was criticized for it), NERA issued a statement that backtracked a bit.
- Donald van der Vaart, the former head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, who wrote an open letter to president-elect Trump, urging him to rein in the EPA, which “has become a symbol of federal overreach.”
- Larry Monroe, the recently retired chief environmental officer for Southern Co., a huge gas and electric company based in Atlanta. He has deep knowledge of how former president Barack Obama’s climate regulations worked and consistently opposed them, according to the Washington Post.
- Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, who challenged studies that linked formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. (Pruitt’s scheduled to give a speech at the council’s annual board meeting next week.)
- Merlin Lindstrom, a vice president of research at the petroleum company, Phillips 66
- Thomas Parkerton, an ExxonMobil distinguished scientist
It’s a sign
The previous science advisory board sent a letter to Pruitt in July asking him to let them know of changes being made in the agency’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Friday’s appointments could signal that Pruitt is considering trying to repeal a key scientific finding commonly known as “endangerment finding.” The finding, which determined that manmade greenhouses were pollutants that could be regulated, has been the backbone of any climate change policy that’s come out of the EPA since 2009.
“Following that was the endangerment finding in 2009 which eventually led to the Paris discussion and Clean Power Plan, all the rulemaking and the climate action agenda of the previous administration,” Pruitt told Breitbart in June. “What’s not discussed at all is, has Congress ever responded or acted upon this matter, this issue of CO2 with respect to power generation? I will tell you, they clearly have not.”
Now that Pruitt’s stacked the board with industry interests, don’t count on them to urge him to keep the finding. In fact, coal company CEO Bob Murray told E&E News in June that Pruitt told him he was going to look at repealing it.
“We talked about that, and they’re going to start addressing it later this year. They’re going to start getting a lot of scientific people in to give both sides of the issue,” Murray said, though another person in the meeting reportedly said Pruitt had actually resisted challenging of the finding, according to E&E.
This board definitely has people to give “both sides of the issue.”