EPA’s Scott Pruitt Attacks Scientific Integrity, Puts American Families’ Health in Danger

October 31, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – October 31, 2017) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt launched two major attacks at the agency’s foundation of sound science today.

In an unprecedented and disturbing move, Pruitt announced new measures that significantly undermine the credibility and integrity of scientific advice provided to EPA. First, Pruitt issued a directive establishing a policy to exclude many impartial researchers from serving as scientific advisors. Second, he announced personnel changes to two major EPA scientific advisory boards that purge highly qualified members and replace them with individuals with direct financial ties to the industries that EPA is supposed to regulate. Many of those new appointees also hold views well outside the scientific mainstream. 

“Pruitt’s actions today are the height of hypocrisy. He is trying to gaslight Americans into believing that industry-funded scientists can offer EPA impartial advice, while those with EPA research grants are biased,” said EDF Chief Scientist Steven Hamburg. “EPA’s fundamental duty is to protect the health of American families from dangerous pollution, and it can only do that by using sound science.”

Pruitt announced today that he is imposing a radical new policy to prevent any scientist receiving research funding from EPA from serving as a scientific advisor to the agency – while still allowing scientists who have funding from industry sources to serve. The move will intentionally skew the panels toward seating scientists with financial conflicts of interest at the expense of academic researchers, who are more likely to receive EPA funding for their research. 

For instance, under the new policy, a scientist funded only by DuPont could have a seat at the table to evaluate science around toxic chemicals, while a University of Texas Professor of toxicology who had received research funding from EPA could not. Perversely, scientists who take money from ExxonMobil, or even Russia (because funding from foreign governments does not appear to be disqualifying) could still serve on the panel and advise EPA, while those who have EPA grants would be declared to have conflicts of interest.

Pruitt also announced changes to the leadership of the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The boards are supposed to “provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator.” 

Pruitt announced today that Michael Honeycutt will be the new chairman of the Science Advisory Board. Honeycutt is a Texas official who once argued against smog protections by saying that most people spend their days indoors. He also claimed there are scientific studies showing cancer-causing particulate pollution “makes you live longer.”

Pruitt also named Tony Cox the chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Cox authored a 2012 study that found “no evidence that reductions in air pollution levels have caused any reductions in mortality rates.” 

According to news reports, Pruitt has also appointed other new members to the boards. His new appointees reportedly include longtime fossil fuel and chemical industry advocates who have made some outrageous and discredited scientific claims that downplay or dismiss concerns about climate change, toxic chemical exposures, and the health impacts of pollution.

These include:

    • Dr. Robert Phalen, who said that “Modern air … is a little too clean for optimum health,” and children’s lungs need a few irritants.
    • Dr. S. Stanley Young, who claims that the “evidence is overwhelming” that if temperatures do increase, it will be “better for humans.”

Pruitt also reportedly took the unprecedented step of removing all Science Advisory Board members whose terms expired on September 30, even though many had served only one term and have traditionally been invited to serve a second term. He also chose to replace the board’s chairman with new appointee Michael Honeycutt, instead of following the usual protocol of promoting an existing board member to the chair.

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