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The EPA Just Got Rid of a Bunch of Scientists on Its Top Review Board

An agency spokesman said the decision was an effort to make "a clean break with the last administration’s approach."

by Drew Schwartz
May 8 2017, 3:16pm

Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency is replacing several scientists on one of its leading review boards, raising a red flag for those afraid the Trump administration is looking to curtail research's role in the agency, the Washington Post reports.

After reportedly being told in January that their terms would be renewed for another three years, at least five of the 18 members on the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors were told they'd be out of a job at the end of their term, the New York Times reports. Many of those scientists, who were tasked with evaluating the merit of the agency's research, were surprised by the decision.

"I was told that such a renewal was expected," Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, told the Post. "In the broader view, I suppose it is the prerogative of this administration to set the goals of federal agencies and to appoint members to advisory boards."

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for the EPA, insisted that the scientists weren't fired and that agency head Scott Pruitt just wanted to bring on a few fresh faces. He told Times the next batch of board members could contain representatives from industries the EPA usually tries to regulate.

"The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community," Freire said. "We want to expand the pool of applicants to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren't typically represented and issues that aren't typically represented."

President Trump has called for a massive cut to the EPA's budget and asked Pruitt to trim down Obama-era regulations on protecting clean water and climate change. For his part, Pruitt has openly questioned humans' role in accelerating climate change and said carbon dioxide isn't a "primary contributor" to the process.

According to Freire, the board members whose terms weren't renewed are welcome to reapply and are encouraged to "participate in the same open competitive process" as other interested candidates.

"This approach is what was always intended for the Board," Freire told the Post, "and we're making a clean break with the last administration's approach."

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