The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed members of a scientific board the agency has used in the past to craft environmental regulations on Friday.
EPA head Scott Pruitt jettisoned five academics from a scientific advisory board that the Trump administration believes is a rubber stamp for many of the climate rules crafted during the Obama-era. He hopes to replace the dismissed scientists with representatives from industries the EPA is responsible for regulating.
“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” EPA spokesman J.P. Freire told reporters Sunday, adding that the former Oklahoma attorney general wants to shift the board’s focus.
“We want to expand the pool of applicant” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”
The dismissals come after legislation meant to reconfigure the board’s makeup passed the House earlier this month. It also follows months of promises from President Donald Trump to reduce the EPA’s budget and ratchet down the agency’s role in fighting global warming.
The president sent draft budget plans to agency heads in April, detailing billions of dollars in cuts to a wide range of federal programs. Cuts to EPA and other agencies will fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending.
Trump’s budget also proposed cutting nearly $2 billion from the EPA’s $8.1 billion budget. The president also “proposed reducing EPA’s 15,000-strong workforce to 12,000.”
Pruitt is trying to refashion the EPA, transitioning the agency from one that fights man-made global warming to one that protects human health and the environment.
EPA is getting “back to the basics of protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said during a visit to Indiana in April. He was referring to a small community in East Chicago, Indiana where officials last summer began evacuating citizens from the West Calumet Housing Complex after they found some yards with lead levels more than 70 times the federal safety standard.
Climate activists and scientists, meanwhile, believe the EPA’s move to reshuffle the board is a blatant act meant to stifle scientific research on global warming.
“This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda,” Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Sunday.
Those dismissed from the board believe the move was political.
“Most of use on the council are academic people,” said Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University. “I think they want to bring in business and industry people.”
Courtney Flint, a professor of resource sociology at Utah State University, said the dismissal was “unexpected” and should be considered a “red flag” to others on the board. She researched how communities respond to toxic pollution, forest fires, and climate change.
One of Flint’s fellow board members made a more pointed criticism on Twitter after he was dismissed.
“Today, I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist at Michigan State University, wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”
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