Trump administration ignored ethics rules to replace scientists with polluters at EPA


EPA advisory boards now have fewer scientists and more industry friends.

The Trump administration is continuing its streak of breaking ethics rules — this time, by installing industry "advisers" at the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the agency, led by Andrew Wheeler, disregarded federal ethics requirements when it replaced academic members of the EPA's advisory boards with industry-backed members who only care about corporate profits and lack the necessary scientific expertise. The purpose of the EPA's 22 scientific advisory committees is to advise the agency on important environmental science and public health and safety issues. 

The report found that two committees did not have documents reflecting EPA staff rationales for proposed membership, as called for by EPA's established process, and did not consistently ensure that members appointed as special government employees were free from conflicts of interest.

"This report shows that the Trump administration rigged influential advisory boards to favor its polluter backers," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in a statement Monday. "In the process, they also slowed down the work of the committees, delaying key decisions on whether to regulate potentially dangerous environmental hazards."

For example, EPA staff raised concerns about Dr. Louis Anthony Cox, Jr., who worked as a researcher for the petroleum industry, who not only had conflicts of interest but also lacked appropriate expertise. Several other appointees also had little or no relevant experience.

The report also noted that the make-up of the EPA's 22 committees now includes far fewer academic scientists than they did under President Barack Obama. Additionally, the number of meetings the boards held dropped 40 percent in the first 15 months of the Trump administration. 

These attacks on independent advisory boards are only the latest attempt by Trump to destroy the agency tasked with protecting America's environment. Under Trump, the EPA has drastically reduced the number of enforcement actions against environmental law breakers and has weakened regulations at the behest of massive polluters. 

Democratic lawmakers aren’t the only ones alarmed by Trump’s actions. Last month, Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, said "the mission of EPA is being seriously undermined by the very people who have been entrusted with carrying that mission out."

But scientific and academic recommendations on public health and the environment are nothing compared to corporate greed within the Trump administration. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.