On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced major changes to who can serve on the agency's advisory boards, BuzzFeed News reports.
The new policy bans scientists receiving EPA grants from serving on these boards, which blocks expert scientists working in environmental and health fields at universities from serving. According to The Hill, it opens the door for companies and industry groups to join the panels. The policy has already been denounced by environmental groups and Democrats.
"We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process and that the scientists that are advising us are doing so without any type of appearance of conflict of interest," Pruitt said at a press conference today.
To explain the policy, he decided to use a Biblical story from the Book of Joshua. (Yes, really.) "Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve," Pruitt said, referencing the journey to the promised land. "This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do."
Politicians and environmentalists say the directive disqualifies top environmentalists and researchers, and simultaneously gives preference to scientists paid for by EPA-regulated companies.
"Frankly, this directive is nuts," research professor Al Teich of George Washington University told BuzzFeed News via email. "There is an important role for citizen advisors who are not experts in a scientific field and who represent various constituencies on advisory committees. But they should complement, not replace the experts. Disqualifying the very people who know the most about a subject from serving as advisors makes no sense."
Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says the policy change raises questions about the EPA's ability to protect the country. "We question whether the EPA can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment," Holt said in a statement issued today.