Earlier this week, Scott Pruitt destroyed what was left of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) three scientific advisory councils. The nation’s top experts on environmental protection and pollution regulation were hit by a new rule that meant they were no longer allowed to suggest how their research should be applied.
Plenty of scientists were jettisoned from these councils a few months back, but as has just been revealed by the Huffington Post, those that remained have been fired by the EPA too – and no one at the agency told them. Shockingly, several found out after news reporters called in to ask for their reaction to Pruitt’s decision.
Peter Thorne, the head of the Science Advisory Board – arguably the most influential of the three councils – was terminated without any advance warning. He will now be replaced by controversial toxicologist Michael Honeycutt, someone who has referred to the EPA’s standards on mercury poisoning as an overreaction.
Hoping to serve for an additional two years to try and steer the EPA back towards its original mission – protecting the environment and human health – his time has now come to an end. “This is really a destruction of the scientific integrity of the EPA,” he told Huffington Post.
Ana Diez Roux, the head of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, was also fired, along with Deborah Swackhamer, the chief of the Board of Scientific Counselors. Like Thorne, Swackhamer found out from journalists that she had been replaced, and she hasn't been given an explanation as to why.
Incidentally, back in June, Swackhamer revealed she had been bullied by the EPA to change her testimony before Congress. The testimony in question focused on the mass dismissal of the agency's scientific advisors.
Let's not understate things here: Both a scientific purge and an industry-led coup d’état has taken place at the EPA. Using the argument that scientists funded by the agency would be too biased to properly influence its policymaking, he has replaced them with fossil fuel and petrochemical industry lobbyists and lawyers without publicly acknowledging the irony.
“Science and the use of science in evidence-based policymaking cannot thrive when policymakers use politics as a pretext to attack scientific objectivity,” a statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science said at the time. “Given its desire to limit expert perspectives and the role of scientific information, we question whether the EPA can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment.”
The fact that some of the EPA’s lead scientists have been fired without warning, however, represents a new level of disrespect for academics within the Trump administration. Before, scientists were just an inconvenience. Now, they’re essentially invisible.