Pruitt Is Removing Science Advisers Who Have Received EPA Funding, But He’s OK With Industry Funding

The EPA administrator called for scientific independence while drowning in fossil fuel money.

Kate Aronoff October 31, 2017

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has a clear double standard when it comes to conflicts of interest. (The White House)

After news broke that eight sci­ence advis­ers to the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency would be dis­missed, EPA Admin­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt today held a press con­fer­ence announc­ing a new direc­tive for the agency where­in sci­en­tists who receive grants from the EPA will not be able to serve on its Fed­er­al Advi­so­ry Committees.

Rep. Lamar Smith argued that “For eight years, the EPA has had science boards filled with members who have had conflicts of interest." Smith’s reelection campaign has received $52,950 from the fossil fuel industry just since the start of 2017.

The deci­sion was framed as one meant to encour­age more inde­pen­dence in agency coun­sel and over­sight. When we have mem­bers of those com­mit­tees that have received tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in [EPA-fund­ed] grants at the same time that they’re advis­ing this agency on rule-mak­ing, that is not good and that’s not right,” Pruitt said in a brief press con­fer­ence to which no reporters were invit­ed. Accord­ing to Pruitt, mem­bers of three of the EPA’s sci­ence advi­so­ry bod­ies — the Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­so­ry Board, the Clean Air Sci­ence Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee and the Board of Sci­en­tif­ic Coun­selors — have received, between them, $77 mil­lion in EPA-fund­ed grants in the past three years.

We want to be sure that there is integri­ty in the process,” he added, and that the sci­en­tists that are advis­ing us are doing so with not any type of appear­ance of con­flict.” The Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed today that it has obtained a draft list of which advi­sors could replace those oust­ed under the new rule — and it’s clear that to Pruitt, not all appear­ances of con­flict are cause for con­cern. The list includes rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the indus­tries the EPA reg­u­lates and reli­able crit­ics of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion. Sev­er­al work for major oil com­pa­nies and elec­tric utilities.

For an admin­is­tra­tor with such deep ties to the fos­sil fuel indus­try — one of the main sec­tors the EPA is charged with reg­u­lat­ing — inde­pen­dence is a tall order. Pruitt and mul­ti­ple of the law­mak­ers who joined him on stage this after­noon have col­lect­ed well over six fig­ures each from oil and gas com­pa­nies that stand to ben­e­fit from reg­u­la­to­ry rollbacks. 

Pruitt’s elec­tion cam­paigns for the Okla­homa Attor­ney Gen­er­al office received $265,000 from the ener­gy sec­tor between 2010 and 2014. The co-chair of his 2014 elec­tion cam­paign was an oil com­pa­ny CEO, Harold Hamm.

As head of the Repub­li­can Attor­ney Gen­er­al Asso­ci­a­tion (RAGA) — a cham­pi­on of anti-reg­u­la­to­ry action — Pruitt helped the group rake in $530,000 from Koch Indus­tries, $350,000 from Mur­ray Ener­gy, $160,000 from Exxon­Mo­bil and $125,000 from Devon Ener­gy. In total, Rolling Stones Jeff Good­ell notes in an exten­sive sto­ry on Pruitt’s cor­po­rate ties, RAGA has tak­en in $2.25 mil­lion from the fos­sil fuel indus­try since 2005 alone.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R‑Texas) praised the direc­tive in today’s press con­fer­ence, argu­ing that For eight years, the EPA has had sci­ence boards filled with mem­bers who have had con­flicts of inter­est. … It is impos­si­ble for these boards to be fair and bal­anced in their advice and their deci­sions when many board mem­bers are receiv­ing grants and funds from the EPA itself.”

Smith’s reelec­tion cam­paign has received $52,950 from the fos­sil fuel indus­try just since the start of 2017, more than from any oth­er indus­try. Over the course of his career, his cam­paigns have received a total of more than $759,000 from oil and gas com­pa­nies. In his role as chair­man of the House Sci­ence, Space and Tech­nol­o­gy com­mit­tee, Smith has also led a charge against Demo­c­ra­t­ic Attor­neys General’s inves­ti­ga­tions into whether Exxon­Mo­bil mis­led the pub­lic about the exis­tence of cli­mate change. The com­mit­tee has issued sub­poe­nas to the AG offices involved along with sev­er­al envi­ron­men­tal groups.

Also speak­ing today was Okla­homa Sen. Jim Inhofe, whose Sen­ate seat, many have spec­u­lat­ed, Pruitt could have his eye on if Inhofe retires in 2020. Inhofe is per­haps best remem­bered for toss­ing a snow­ball onto the floor of the Sen­ate to dis­prove the exis­tence of glob­al warm­ing. Since 2013, Inhofe’s cam­paigns have received $324,400 from the oil and gas indus­try, includ­ing more than $20,000 each from Exxon­Mo­bil and Mur­ray Ener­gy. He’s received more than $1.82 mil­lion from those sec­tors since the start of his polit­i­cal career, plus $593,317 from elec­tric utilities.

As we engage in rule-mak­ing here at the agency,” Pruitt con­clud­ed before sign­ing the order, our focus should be sound sci­ence, not polit­i­cal science.”

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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