GAO: EPA skirted procedures in overhaul of science boards |

GAO: EPA skirted procedures in overhaul of science boards

Associated Press
Associated Press
In this June 2018 photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt listens as President Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House. Pruitt and other EPA political officials strayed from some of the agency’s long-standing, documentation-heavy procedures of weighing staff recommendations for new appointees to the panels, the Government Accountability Office said Monday after a review of the agency requested by Senate Democrats.

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency skirted some of its usual procedures and ethics rules when it overhauled key agency advisory boards, slashing the numbers of academic scientists on the panels and appointing more industry figures, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.

Senate Democrats had asked for the GAO probe. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and one of those requesting the review by the government watchdog, said the administration’s trimming of scientists on EPA scientific panels has slowed the agency’s regulatory decisions overall, and rigged the advisory boards “to favor its polluter backers.”

The EPA disputed one of the key findings in Monday’s GAO report, denying that the agency’s senior political appointees privately picked new members for the boards in a way that shut out recommendations by career EPA staffers and left little of a paper trail.

And the agency said it is dealing with the other main GAO criticism — that EPA ethics staff skimped on proper review of financial disclosures by some of the new panel appointees. The disclosures are required to guard against conflicts of interest for panel members. The agency has doubled the size of its career ethics attorney staff to make sure all agency appointees comply with the disclosure rules, spokesman Michael Abboud said.

President Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, remade many of the panels advising the agency. Pruitt’s moves included barring scientists from serving on the advisory boards if they had received EPA research grants. Pruitt, one of the most enthusiastic agents of Trump’s rule-cutting, business-friendly mission, resigned amid ethics scandals last summer.

In the first few years of the Trump administration, the share of scientists on the agency’s Science Advisory Board dropped by 27 percent, the GAO said. On the Board of Science Counselors, the decline was 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of representatives of regulated industries on the Science Advisory Board increased from three to five, the report said. On the other board, it went from one to three.

Pruitt and other EPA political officials strayed from some of the agency’s long-standing, documentation-heavy procedures of weighing staff recommendations for new appointees to the panels, the GAO said. EPA officials denied doing anything improper, saying the decisions were hashed out in briefings among senior managers instead.

Chris Zarba, who retired early last year from his EPA job coordinating two of the main advisory panels, questioned the EPA’s account Monday, saying the administration’s overhaul of the boards meant there were far too many candidates to consider each adequately in meetings.

“There’s no way you can do that verbally,” Zarba said. “That would be like designing an aircraft and doing it verbally.”

Zarba has criticized the remaking of the panels’ membership since leaving. “My opinion is that the intent is to make the science more favorable to special interest,” he said.

Categories: News | World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.