Reporters spun themselves in knots after Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt used a biblical analogy to explain his recent decision to change how the agency’s science advisory panel is staffed.
Any academic who receives EPA grant money can no longer serve as an adviser on the Scientific Advisory Board, among other boards, Pruitt said at a press conference Tuesday. Yet reporters honed in on his decision to use a Bible quote suggesting that people can’t serve two masters.
“Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said, referring to scientists who accept government grants while also using an advisory position to give independent advice.
“This is sort of like the Joshua principle,” he said. “You are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.”
New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman suggested on social media that the analogy was an example of Pruitt’s supposed messianic ambitions.
“I think Pruitt just likened himself to Joshua leading the Israelites to the Promised Land by ending ability of EPA advisers to get grants,” Friedman tweeted shortly after the agency chief made his comments.
I think Pruitt just likened himself to Joshua leading the Israelites to the Promised Land by ending ability of EPA advisors to get grants
— Lisa Friedman (@LFFriedman) October 31, 2017
“Scott Pruitt Is Using the Bible as His Guide for Reorganizing EPA’s Science Board,” liberal media outlet Mother Jones wrote in a headline addressing the topic. The outlet’s writer, Rebecca Leber, implied the so-called Joshua principle was now the new guiding metric for Pruitt and the EPA.
Pruitt, who sued the agency a dozen times during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general, said the board will be made up of environmentalists, industry groups, academics and other experts to provide a diverse perspective on EPA science policy. The agency has more than 20 boards, but his directive only applies to Scientific Advisory Board, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Board of Scientific Counselors.
Members of the three targeted committees got $77 million in EPA grants during the last three years. Conservative groups found CASAC members have gotten $192 million in EPA grants since 2000, an amount they say claim makes it difficult to maintain an air of independence.
Pruitt also put a big emphasis on “geographical diversity” in appointing science advisers. Science boards have typically left out experts from large swaths of the country, especially western states that feel most of the brunt of clean air rules, EPA officials said.
Republicans have worked for years on separating the committees from grants. The House passed a bill in March, for instance, that would prevent scientists currently receiving EPA grants from serving on EPA advisory committees. The bill is stuck in the Senate.