Why Do Americans Need Scientists on a Board of Scientific Counselors?

May 8, 2017 – The new look Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States has little to do with protecting the environment or science. The latest move by Scott Pruitt, the Trump-appointed head of the EPA who in his past life was best known for suing the agency 14 times as Attorney General of Oklahoma, has little use for evidence that doesn’t fit his “beliefs.”

Pruitt “believes” that carbon dioxide doesn’t play a role in our changing climate. He has no evidence to support his position other than hare-brained notions coming from climate science skeptics who shill for the fossil fuel industry. In fact, Pruitt owes the fossil fuel industry for winning the election that made him Attorney General in Oklahoma. They gave him a big fat cheque for $40,000 during his 2010 run for office.

So it should be no surprise that the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which plays an evidence-based advisory role within the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, under Pruitt will have fewer scientists aboard. Five have been dismissed among the 18 that are responsible for reviewing agency research. And who will replace them?

And who will replace them?

You guessed it. “Not scientists.”

Stated an EPA spokesperson, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”

That, in and of itself, is valuable. But what scientific contribution can those from industry provide that will be evidence and objective-based?

The mission of BOSC (as described on the website) is as follows:

  • Evaluate science and engineering research, programs and plans, laboratories, and research management practices of the Office of Research and Development (ORD), and recommend actions to improve their quality and/or strengthen their relevance to EPA’s mission.
  • Evaluate and provide advice concerning the utilization of peer review within ORD to sustain and enhance the quality of science in EPA.
  • Review ORD’s program development and progress, ORD’s research planning process, and research program balance, including implementation of the ORD Strategic Plan.
  • Provide peer review including evaluation of ORD’s peer review policies, and review ORD offices, national laboratories and centers, and research plans and products.
  • Provide advice on human resources planning, such as scientist career development and rotational assignment programs, and the appropriate scope and design of training programs for environmental research professionals.

I see words like “science and scientist,” “laboratories,” “peer review,” and “research” in this mission statement. Nowhere do I see mention of business or the “regulated community.”

When the polluters provide the science we get, for example, an Exxon-Mobil that hides its own scientific research on climate change from the public for three decades because it provides empirical evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

Stated one of the scientists who was dismissed from BOSC on Friday, the move “marginalizes climate change science.”

In addition to the changes at BOSC, Trump’s proposed EPA budget cuts 84% of the funding to the 47-member Science Advisory Board which makes recommendations on the EPA’s research agenda.

 


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.
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