Researcher on Science Advisory Board under Obama refuses to leave…
(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Liberals love to accuse conservatives of having corporation-related conflicts of interest, no matter how tenuous the link.
But when liberal eco-warriors are called on the carpet for direct and obvious conflicts, they howl.
Scott Pruitt, the conservative Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is facing pushback from members of various EPA “advisory boards” for his directive asking for resignations from the board by any members who also receive grants from the EPA.
On the surface, this is standard stuff, even banal: If you receive funding from a public agency, you shouldn’t be advising the agency on matters of policy.
The potential conflicts of interest are blindingly apparent.
“Whatever science comes out of EPA, shouldn’t be political science,” said Administrator Pruitt. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the Agency.”
As noted by the press release accompanying Pruitt’s Oct. 31 directive, “According to EPA calculations, in just the last three years, members of three of EPA’s 22 [advisory committees] – the Science Advisory Board (SAB), Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) – received upwards of $77 million in direct EPA grant funding while concurrently serving on these committees.”
A memo also issued by Pruitt explained further that instead of being tempted by any financial considerations, advisory committee members “should be motivated by service and committed to providing informed and independent expertise and judgment.”
This directive did not sit well with liberal researchers accustomed to the EPA gravy train.
At Columbia University’s Climate Law Blog, writer Michael Burger had a fit, calling Pruitt’s action “arbitrary and capricious” because “there has been no process, no notice given or comment taken, no hearing held, no record compiled, no reasoned explanation.”
Writing as if the members sat on the advisory committees by some sort of legal right, Burger took great pains to show that the Administrative Procedures Act does not define such situations as automatic conflicts of interest, and thus that the APA does not require such members to be dismissed.
Conservatives would answer, of course, that the question isn’t whether the dismissals are required by law, but rather whether they are allowed.
Nothing, they say, keeps an administrator from adopting policies stricter than baseline legal requirements, in order to protect the public interest.
Nonetheless, some of the advisory board members were emboldened by Burger’s blog post.
Ohio State researcher Robyn Wilson insists that, unless specifically and personally fired by Pruitt, she will both keep her EPA funding and her seat on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.
Just this fall, Wilson received a $150,000 EPA grant to study whether money used for better water quality in Lake Erie is being spent efficiently.
Perhaps it’s a worthwhile grant. That’s immaterial.
Pruitt’s directive assumes that nobody should be affecting policy if that person might also benefit directly from it.
“It’s not really a choice because I can’t return the money,” Wilson said of the ultimatum. “I can’t bail on my collaborators or on the project.”
But, Pruitt’s policy assumes, she does have a choice.
There is no reason she must serve on the Science Advisory Board.
She can keep her grant, keep her ability to receive other EPA grants, keep her job at Ohio State – but just not do all that and serve on the EPA board.
Wilson is among a number of eco-activists who accuse Pruitt of serving a real agenda of stacking committees with friends of industry.
She said that if this is his agenda, or if his real goal is to reduce regulatory burdens, he’s barking up the wrong tree:
“What’s kind of ironic about it is it seems like the administration is trying to stack the board with people who are against regulation,” Wilson said. “And most of my research shows that we can improve water quality in the Great Lakes through voluntary actions. Regulation might not be necessary.”
But her defense of her project, which might be meritorious, assumes that Pruitt’s directive is all political, not ethical.
Elsewhere, though, Democrats are retaliating, politically and vocationally, against people newly appointed by Pruitt to the same board Wilson is refusing to resign from.
In North Carolina, the state’s Democratic Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality put the Republican previous Secretary – who had taken a demotion to a non-political position in order to keep his job – on administrative leave, and effectively forced his retirement.
The Democrat now in power, Michael Regan, objected to Republican Donald van der Vaart’s acceptance of an appointment to EPA’s Science Advisory Board, and imposed an “administrative action” that sidelined van der Vaart from NC DEQ.
This is the sort of political tit-for-tat Pruitt’s directive seems intended to avoid at EPA.
It remains to be seen how he will respond to the challenges from Wilson and Burger.Click here for reuse options!
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