Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt came under fire Monday after he began cleaning house at a key scientific review board, with liberal critics accusing the Republicans again of prioritizing politics over science.
In personnel changes first reported by The New York Times, the EPA has told nine members of its 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors that their terms will not be renewed.
The board reviews data used in agency rule-making and, during the Obama administration, was made up mostly of academics. In the past, the board has included representatives from private industry.
The members serve three-year terms, which can be terminated or renewed at the will of the administrator. Notifications began going out Friday to nine of the members that their terms wouldn’t be renewed.
“Today, I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University, tweeted Friday afternoon after he was told his tenure wouldn’t be renewed. “I had the pleasure of serving on the Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”
Agency officials on Monday strongly disputed reports that Mr. Richardson and others had been “fired” or “dismissed,” stressing that their terms simply were not renewed and that it’s possible they could be brought back on board in the future.
“It’s not a dismissal. It’s simply the end of the term. We’re opening up a process,” said EPA spokesman J.P. Freire. “We’re actually setting up our system so we can attract applicants who are highly qualified and ensure we have the best people on this board as possible, and that’s why we’re inviting people currently sitting on the board to reapply as well.”
But the incident has given more fuel to progressives who already think Mr. Pruitt’s EPA is putting science on the back burner — and putting the interests of oil and gas companies first.
“There’s a name for Donald Trump’s environmental policy: aggressive stupidity. The scientists he just fired have been working on nothing more political than making sure our water is safe to drink and our air is safe to breathe,” said Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “By turning them into political targets, Trump is proving yet again that he doesn’t care about ordinary people.”
Throughout his first few months on the job, Mr. Pruitt has maintained that his focus is getting the EPA out of the business of burdensome federal regulations. He’s disputed the notion that, under his watch, the agency will disregard scientific research.