According to emails obtained by the New York Times, the top scientist on the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific review board was instructed to downplay the mass dismissal of advisors when she testified before Congress. “I felt bullied,” she says now.
The EPA is technically required to listen to official scientific advice when setting policy. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Whitman v. American Trucking Associations that the Administrator of the EPA is not even allowed to factor in the costs of implementation when setting new air quality standards. It, therefore, behooves the current climate change-denying administration to clean house and try to find some kooky (or greedy) scientists that agree with them.
In May, EPA head Scott Pruitt informed 18 members of the agency’s Board of Science Counselors that their terms would not be renewed. The scientific community was outraged and several scientists on the board resigned in protest. One member of the board told the Washington Post, “I’ve never heard of any circumstance where someone didn’t serve two consecutive terms.” Two weeks later, Dr. Deborah Swackhamer, an environmental chemist, and leader of the board was due to testify in front of the House Science Committee.
Her formal testimony had already been submitted to the committee when she received emails from the EPA’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson. The emails reportedly informed Dr. Swackhamer that when it came to the dismissals she should follow the agency’s “talking points.” He also pressed her to publicly note that “a decision had not yet been made” about the dismissals. But according to the Times, “several scientists on the board had already received notices that their terms would not be renewed.” In the weeks following her testimony, dozens of scientists at the EPA have been informed that their terms would not be renewed and according to Dr. Swackhamer, “The Board of Scientific Counselors had 68 members two months ago. It will have 11 come September 1.” That date is also when the EPA is expected to eliminate more than 1,200 employees.
James Thurber, the founder and former director of the Center for Congressional Studies at American University, tells the Times that this is the first time he’s heard about an administration pressuring a witness to change their testimony following its submission. Dr. Swackhamer says she was “stunned that he was pushing me to ‘correct’ something in my testimony.”
Pruitt’s term leading the EPA has been marked by obfuscation, Orwellian language like “returning to EPA originalism,” and a refusal to say whether or not the administration believes that man-made climate change is real. Pruitt has relied heavily on former senior staff members of Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma to fill top positions at the agency. Inhofe is the moron who brought a snowball to the floor of the Senate to prove that climate change is a hoax.
At the time that the initial board dismissals occurred, EPA spokesman J.P. Freire told the New York Times, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.” That sounds like a vague way of saying “we need scientists who will consider the costs of implementation when making recommendations because we’re legally barred from doing so.”
On Monday, Democrats on the House Science Committee sent a letter to the EPA requesting that the Inspector General investigate Jackson’s purported attempt to change Dr. Swackhamer’s testimony. They wrote, “We contend that Mr. Jackson, and perhaps other senior E.P.A. employees, attempted to interfere with the testimony of an independent scientist to the Science Committee and may have sought to mislead Congress.”