Judge tosses EPA policy that barred agency grantees from serving as science advisers

Scott Pruitt, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was widely criticized for barring researchers who received agency grants from serving on its science advisory panels.
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Originally published by E&E News

Green groups have clocked a win against a controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that limited who could be members of the agency’s science advisory boards.

Yesterday’s ruling by Judge Denise Cote for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York came after multiple courts tossed similar claims.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the agency last year over a 2017 directive from then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that said members of the agency’s advisory boards could not be recipients of EPA grants. The policy resulted in the removal of scientists from the agency’s advisory committees.

Cote agreed with NRDC, saying that the Administrative Procedure Act requires EPA to provide a “reasoned explanation” for the change.

“The EPA concedes, as it must, that the Directive is a departure from prior EPA policy that allowed EPA grant recipients to serve as members of advisory committees,” Cote, a Clinton appointee, wrote in yesterday’s opinion.

“Indeed,” she continued, “prior to the issuance of the Directive, the EPA’s Peer Review Handbook stated specifically that there is ‘no question’ that a scientist who receives EPA research funding can, nonetheless, offer ‘independent scientific advice’ to the EPA.”

At the time, Pruitt said EPA’s policy was designed to ensure objectivity of panels like the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the Science Advisory Board.

During a separate round of litigation over the policy, documents indicated that industry groups and Republican lawmakers influenced the change.

Cote’s ruling follows several failed attempts by NRDC and other groups to overturn EPA’s ban (Greenwire, March 27, 2019).

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