The Environmental Protection Agency forced out half the members of a key scientific advisory board over the May 7 weekend - and their possible replacements include representatives of polluting industries the agency regulates.
The scientists dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors received emails from an agency official informing them that their three-year terms had expired and would not be renewed.
She added, "The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions".
"A spokesperson for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said the administrator is considering replacing the five scientists with representatives of industries whose pollution the EPA polices".
Late Friday, Michigan State University's Robert Richardson announced via Twitter that he'd been "Trumped", adding, "I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today".
EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the agency's new leadership wants to consider a wider array of applicants, potentially including those who may work for chemical and fossil fuel companies.
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The Trump administration also has called for deep cuts at the EPA, reducing its overall budget by almost a third, at the same time the administration has moved to reverse or slow some of the agency's regulatory decisions.
"I do not think I am speculating when I say that this is a political move", she said. "EPA is stressing here that this is supposed to be an open and competitive process; no one was ever supposed to be guaranteed a second term".
J.P. Freire, a spokesman for the agency, said the Trump administration is now looking for nominees who better match the goals of the president. Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University who was dismissed from the board, explained that most members of the council are academics. "This approach is what was always intended for the Board, and we're making a clean break with the last administration's approach". The EPA has plenty of scientists who conduct research and publish their findings. "These folks were appointed for three-year terms, they're not guaranteed a second three-year term". That money typically covers travel and other expenses for outside experts who attend the board's public meetings.
Republican President Donald Trump signed an order in March undoing the Clean Power Plan and other climate change rules that had been imposed by his predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama.
"The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government", Smith said at the time.
The Board of Scientific Counselors was established in 1996 with a mission of providing advice and recommendations on science and engineering practices and research done by the EPA's labs and scientists.