Chesapeake PSR

National PSR sues EPA over scientific advisory boards

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

National Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and a coalition of nonprofit organizations and scientists have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking the court to throw out a new EPA policy barring anyone receiving grant money from the agency from serving on its scientific advisory panels.

EPA’s scientific advisory panels were established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Through FACA, Congress formally recognized committees and other groups as a useful and beneficial means of seeking outside expert advice, ideas and opinions. EPA scientific advisory panels help inform EPA decisions and review the scientific accuracy of EPA findings across a wide range of agency programs.

Under a new policy, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is removing publicly funded scientists from the committees but allowing advocates for the polluting industries to remain on the committees.

Those being removed include experts and leaders in the fields of cancer, children’s health, asthma and other respiratory diseases, epidemiology, the hazards posed by chemicals in the home, and risk analysis and decision science. These scientists help ensure that EPA makes decisions based on scientific merit and not on politics.

In announcing the lawsuit, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, notes that while independent scientists are being removed from the boards, “One of Pruitt’s appointees to the Science Advisory Board, Robert Phalen, claims that air pollution is good for children and that ‘modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.’ Michael Honeycutt, another Pruitt appointee, denies the overwhelming scientific evidence that smog causes asthma and has suggested that more smog would be a ‘health benefit.’ As a regulator in Texas, he has opposed stricter limits on mercury and arsenic releases, and actually weakened state protections for benzene, a widespread and extremely potent carcinogen. Honeycutt will now chair the Science Advisory Board.”

The parties to the suit are PSR, National Hispanic Medical Association and the International Society for Children’s Health and Environment, on behalf of their members, and Professor Edward Avol, represented by Earthjustice, together with independent scientists Dr. Robyn Wilson and Dr. Joseph Arvai, represented by the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic, Morningside Heights Legal Services at Columbia Law School.

• • •