jueves, 18 de mayo de 2017

Trump Officials Act to Tilt Federal Science Boards toward Industry

EPA Administer Scott Pruitt. Credit: Justin Merriman Getty Images

Scientific American
By John McQuaid
May 16, 2017

New changes to EPA, Interior Department advisory groups could restrict or paralyze them, critics say

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surprised many people in 2015 when it announced its scientists had found hydraulic fracturing for natural gas had no “widespread, systemic impacts” on the nation’s drinking water. Some independent studies had shown the opposite.

The EPA’s 47-member Science Advisory Board—a panel of outside experts, mostly academics—studied the report’s evidence and found it did not justify that rosy conclusion. As complaints mounted, the EPA changed the words, saying the language was not “quantitatively supported” and “did not clearly communicate the findings of the report.” It turned out the phrases about little water impact had been added after a meeting with officials at the Obama White House, which strongly backed the natural gas industry.

Keeping agency science in line with the evidence is the principal job of this advisory group and hundreds of similar boards across the federal government. But this month, under Pres. Donald Trump, that is changing. Administration officials began acting to reconfigure several boards to make them friendlier to industry, driven by the belief that current board scientists are too beholden to regulatory agencies. The EPA dismissed half of the 18 members of its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC). Members typically serve two three-year terms but these people had only served one. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” spokesman J. P. Freire told The New York Times. For the larger SAB, Trump’s proposed budget cuts its operating funds by 84 percent. In addition, the Interior Department announced last week it was reviewing the scope of 200 of its own advisory committees.

More members from “the regulated community”—chemical and energy companies and manufacturers—could prevent the committees from spotting problems such as the fracking report, says Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University who was one of the BOSC members let go. Or industry members could paralyze the boards, observers say, preventing them from making any decisions….

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