Two members of an Environmental Protection Agency subcommittee tasked with recommending best practices for cleaning up pollution resigned under protest Friday after the Trump administration axed the leaders of their project earlier this week.
"We cannot in good conscience be complicit in our co-chairs' removal, or in the watering down of credible science, engineering, and methodological rigor that is at the heart of that decision," Carlos Martin and Peter Meyer wrote in their resignation letter, which Martin tweeted Friday.
Martin and Meyer are protesting the removal of scientists Courtney Flint and Robert Richardson, who ran the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Subcommittee of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the EPA.
The EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors has five subcommittees made up largely of academics, social scientists, economists, engineers, and scientists outside of the government. Roughly 50 advisors work on climate, chemical safety, homeland security, water quality, and community health and safety. Earlier this week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt gutted the leadership of many of the BOSC's subcommittees.
"Every single one of us was expected to be renewed by August 30," Meyer told me in a phone call. "My prediction is none of us will be. More of our members are mulling over whether to resign at this point."
In a phone call, Meyer said one of his subcommittee's main tasks was recommending how EPA science could be implemented across the government to clean up environmental disasters. For example, the subcommittee worked with scientists researching how local vegetation could be used to filter water flowing from mines into local water supplies and with scientists researching what levels of arsenic could be present in drinking water before it becomes dangerous.
Meyer said when the subcommittee was assembled, its members were told to expect to work on a five year project; Flint and Richardson were removed by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt after only three years. Under Trump, the executive branch continues to hemorrhage scientists and academics who have long advised the White House and its agencies.
Meyer said his subcommittee rarely recommended new environmental regulations (which the Trump administration has committed to freeze and repeal)—instead it focused mainly on responding to environmental problems after the fact.
"Our function was to make sure the work the EPA was doing was being used as effectively as possible not just for regulation but also for technological advancements in pollution cleanup," Meyer said.
In the letter, Meyer and Martin said that any replacements for Flint and Richardson hired by Pruitt's EPA would likely ruin much of the progress the team had made.
"I wouldn't trust any leadership that came in now," Meyer told me. "Under other kinds of autocratic regimes, a lot of people continue working and hang on with hope that it'll get better. I don't have that hope."