Last year was a watershed moment for America’s scientific legacy, but not in a good way: federal science has come under heavy attack from the Trump administration, part of a larger war on facts that don’t suit industry interests. Arguably, none has suffered more than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has effectively been gutted from within, like a house that’s seen a fire eat away at its innards.
As announced by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) – a non-profit science advocacy group – researchers are now taking legal action against the EPA, as well as Scott Pruitt, the agency’s chief. Although there are likely plenty of suits that could be taken out against the EPA, this case focuses on Pruitt’s dismantling of the agency’s scientific advisory boards.
Back in 2017, it transpired that many of the scientists working on the EPA’s advisory councils would not have their contracts renewed. As industry interests began to replace top-tier positions at the agency, it was also announced that any remaining EPA-funded researchers can no longer give advice on how the EPA uses this science to inform policy.
At the time, Pruitt claimed that scientists funded by the agency wouldn’t be able to give unbiased advice, despite the fact that these scientists are the best equipped to advise on the science they’ve spent their lives working on. Ultimately, the move was widely seen as a way to push disagreeable science about air quality, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions aside.
Now, UCS and Protect Democracy – another nonpartisan non-profit group of scientists – have filed a lawsuit in response to this. Professor Elizabeth Sheppard of the University of Washington School of Public Health, a member of the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, is also listed as a plaintiff.
The suit, filed in the District of Massachusetts, posits that the exclusion of EPA scientists from these advisory boards has no legal basis, and violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act – one which demands that such advisory boards remain balanced, and do not suffer from an overarching influence from the upper echelons of the agency.
Describing Pruitt’s recent move as a “purge of eminent scientists,” the suit explains that Pruitt is aiming to “stack the deck against scientific integrity.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have sought legal action against the Trump administration. Just recently, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) – an international non-profit coalition of researchers – announced that it’s going to sue the federal government over the Department of the Interior’s decision to drastically shrink two massive national monuments.
At the same time, a group of kids and teenagers are suing President Trump for endangering their futures through inaction on climate change.
Form an orderly queue, scientists.