Scientist group sues Pruitt over advisory committee directive
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January 29, 2018
Scientist group sues Pruitt over advisory committee directive

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has filed a lawsuit against the EPA and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over Pruitt’s October 2017 directive prohibiting individuals holding EPA grants from serving on Agency science advisory committees. The UCS alleges that the directive violates several federal laws, but the group appears more motivated by what the directive accomplishes—removing scientists mainly from academia from committees and replacing them with individuals who are serving or have served industries subject to federal environmental law and EPA regulations.

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Appearance of conflict

“Non-governmental and non-tribal members in direct receipt of EPA grants while serving on an EPA [Federal Advisory Committee (FAC)] can create the appearance or reality of potential interference with their ability to independently and objectively serve as a FAC member,” Pruitt stated in a memo accompanying the directive. “FAC members should be motivated by service and committed to providing informed and independent expertise and judgment.”


But according to the UCS, the intent and effect of the ban is to disproportionately discount the viewpoints of academic scientists to the detriment of neutral, evidence-based science.

“Banning EPA grant recipients from EPA advisory boards excludes academic scientists from serving on EPA advisory boards in particular, since academics often rely on outside funding—from EPA or elsewhere—to conduct research, fund graduate students, and work in the public interest,” states the UCS. “For example, EPA grants have funded research linked with projects that protect children who are at-risk for lead poisoning in Indiana, restore coastal forests in Connecticut, and maintain clean drinking water in Mississippi. It’s hard to argue why conducting research in support of these types of projects would make someone provide biased advice to EPA, yet that’s the reasoning that Pruitt uses to justify this directive.”


Pruitt’s directive and memo also assert that it is the Agency’s intention to ensure that FACs have a broader geographic representation and promote fresh perspectives. “The real reasoning behind this directive is to make it easier for Pruitt to delay, rollback, or dismantle the EPA regulations that are designed to protect clean air, water, and public health,” wrote Josh Goldman, a UCS senior scientist in a blog.

“Pruitt is using this directive to populate advisory boards with industry-funded scientists and state government officials who have made a career fighting federal regulations,” said Goldman. “The EPA Science Advisory Board, for example, now includes fourteen new members who consult or work for the fossil fuel or chemical industries, which gave Pruitt nearly $320,000 for his campaigns in Oklahoma as a state senator and attorney general.”

Legal standard

UCS’s legal argument is that the directive is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedures Act because it is not an exercise of reasoned decision making because it failed to consider reasonable alternatives and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made; is a sub silentio departure from a previously established agency policy without adequate explanation; conflicts with and is unnecessary in light of applicable regulations promulgated by the Office of Government Ethics; and amounts to a clear error in judgment.

The complaint also details how the directive violates the Federal Advisor Committee Act, which requires all advisory committees to be “fairly balanced” and not “inappropriately influenced” by the appointing authority.

The UCS complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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