“Air Quality is Too Clean” — EPA Packs Boards with Industry Members

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Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Phalen

Industry reps and climate change skeptics — but no scientists receiving EPA grants — on advisory boards


Timothy Cama writes for The Hill:


The Environmental Protection Agency overhauled its external advisory boards Friday with new members representing various regulated industries and states, among other entities.

Among the dozens of new members to the Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee and Board of Scientific Counselors are representatives of Phillips 66 Co., Southern Co., and the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Some of the new advisors have controversial scientific views, including one who believes air quality is too clean for children, while the new members include multiple climate change skeptics.

“To ensure that EPA is receiving the best independent scientific advice, I am appointing highly-qualified experts and scientists to these important committees,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has the authority to appoint and dismiss the advisory board members, said in a statement accompanying the lists.

The advisers have no decisionmaking authority, but they’re often called upon to interpret and judge scientific research as well as give opinions on regulatory matters and other decisions the agency makes.

The overhauled boards reflect a new policy Pruitt established earlier this week that no scientists receiving EPA grants could be on any of the EPA advisory committees, which he said would reduce conflicts of interest. Instead, Pruitt has pushed to encourage state and local government representatives and people with diverse viewpoints.

Several scientists, Democrats, and environmentalists sharply criticized the move, saying it was meant to exclude the most qualified experts in the fields.

Pruitt carved out an exemption to the grantee rule for representatives of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments.

Pruitt’s policy released this week also put a new emphasis on regional diversity and “fresh perspectives”, which regulated industries and Republicans have been seeking for years.

The rosters released Friday include Merlin Lindstrom, vice president for research at Phillips 66 on the science board; Larry Monroe, head of research and environment at Southern Co., also on the science board; and Kari Cutting, vice president at the North Dakota Petroleum Council, on the Board of Scientific Counselors’ executive committee.

Tony Cox, the new head of the clean air committee, runs a consulting firm serving oil and chemical clients. He has published research questioning whether recent reductions in pollutants like fine particulate matter and ozone yields health benefits, which runs contrary to the EPA’s position.

Robert Phalen of the University of California, Irvine is a new science board member. He has argued that current air quality in the United States is too clean for “optimum health.”

The advisory panels kept most of the members, including many from academia and environmental groups.

They include Viney Aneja of North Carolina State University, on the Board of Science Advisors’ executive committee and Jack Harkema of Michigan State University on the clean air committee.

Pruitt even added at least one representative of an environmental group: Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund, was named to the Board of Scientific Advisors’ chemical safety subcommittee.

But McPartland has not yet decided to accept Pruitt’s offer to be on the board. McPartland, who served a previous term on the chemical safety panel, said in a statement that she and EDF oppose Pruitt’s new policies regarding advisory committees, and she may choose not to take the position.

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