Democratic Committee Leaders Request Information on the Dismissal of Members of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors

May 18, 2017

(Washington, DC) – Democratic leaders of the Science, Space & Technology Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt today expressing concerns and raising questions about the recent dismissal of nine members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors.

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Science, Space, and Technology Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), both Committees’ Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Members Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Don Beyer (D-VA), and both Committees’ Environment Subcommittee Ranking Members Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

The letter highlights fears, reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post, that the Board’s scientific credibility will be diluted by issue-specific industry advocates and partisan motivations.  The letter also asks Pruitt to ensure that the EPA follows proper federal law regarding advisory committees and conflicts of interest regulations when appointing new members to the Board.

“We have serious concerns about this action that has prematurely removed qualified experts from EPA’s Board and deprives EPA of critical scientific and technical expertise needed to support the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment,” wrote the six Democratic Committee leaders.

The EPA Board of Scientific Counselors was established in 1996 to provide expert advice on EPA’s research and development work, and operates consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  The Board comments on strategic research plans, laboratory management, and budget and staffing issues, and – pursuant to FACA – is required to select Board members that represent a balanced set of views, expertise, and other relevant factors.

“We are also seriously concerned that you now intend to fill these newly opened positions with members who will serve as advocates for specific policies rather than as unbiased experts,” the Members continued. “To maintain the scientific integrity of the Board’s work, we expect you to adhere to the requirements of FACA for transparency and balance in making new appointments to the Board. We further expect you will appoint new members as Special Government Employees who are bound by conflicts of interest regulations.”

As part of their inquiry into the dismissal of the nine Board members, the six committee leaders requested additional information, including:

1.         Provide all communications, records, and analysis related to EPA’s determination not to renew the appointments of Board members whose first terms ended on April 27, 2017.

2.         Provide the Committees a copy of the outreach plan prepared by the EPA’s Designated Federal Officer (DFO) for the Board as well as the draft grid of potential nominees also prepared by the DFO.

3.         Explain what systems and processes EPA intends to implement in order to ensure that any new Board members are in compliance with all applicable ethics regulations and free of any conflicts of interest or appearances of being unable to provide impartial advice.