For at least the last four years, Congress’ most outspoken climate change deniers have been trying to radically change the way science works at the Environmental Protection Agency. Led by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith and his Science Advisory Board Reform Act, their goal is to replace EPA scientists with representatives of polluting industries, empowering them to judge the science behind environmental regulations.
Smith’s bill has failed to become law each year it’s been introduced. But now, it appears that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is going to implement this policy himself. On Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Brady Dennis reported that Pruitt is planning to ban EPA scientists who have received EPA grants from serving on the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board, which reviews the “quality and relevance” of the science used to create regulations. Pruitt’s reasoning is that if scientists have received money from the agency, there are “questions on the independence and the veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way,” he said at a Heritage Foundation event on Tuesday.
This reasoning is pretty sloppy. Most scientific research in the U.S. is funded by government grants; that hardly means that every scientist is biased toward government regulation. And industry representatives would have a much clearer conflict of interest, and could be counted on to promote whatever studies supported their case for deregulation. While Pruitt, unlike Smith, is not explicitly calling for more industry representatives on the Scientific Advisory Board, but he has a famously close relationship with polluting companies—and has been doing them favors in his current position.
Pruitt’s latest gambit is what environmentalists, Democrats, and scientists are referring to when they accuse Republicans of waging a “war on science.” Federal environmental regulations are based the best available science, and their goal is not just to reduce global warming and protect the environment, but to ensure the public’s health and safety. That’s the principal reason why we have rules governing air and water pollution. Republicans want to manipulate the science underpinning these rules so they can successfully repeal them. Doing so will threaten not just the climate, but Americans’ lives. It is the most consequential of battles, and Republicans are about to win it.