A bill which would prohibit scientists who had received research grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from serving on its Science Advisory Board (SAB) and potentially welcome more industry and corporate representatives to the board has passed through the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
The SAB is an independent council charged with reviewing the science EPA uses as the foundation for regulations, in addition to providing other scientific advice and expertise. Congressional Republicans have been taking aim at changing how SAB members are chosen for several years. The bill was first introduced in 2014, re-introduced again in 2015, and has taken its latest form as H.R.1431.
Critics of the bill say it will give a seat at the table to corporate executives who would benefit from weakening EPA regulations and shut the door to many qualified researchers. And it has powerful corporations pushing it, including coal giant Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmog.
Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) says the bill “allows for increased public participation in the EPA science review process and requires the SAB to be more responsive to the public and to Congress.” Smith has received $24,770 in campaign donations from ExxonMobil since 1999, according to Oil Change International, and has served as a leading force against the “Exxon Knew” climate change investigations pursued by state attorneys general.
Lining up to oppose H.R.1431: several environmental groups, such the National Wildlife Federation, League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as scientific societies, health advocacy groups, and universities, including the American Thoracic Society, the Trust for America's Health, and Cornell University.
Peabody's lobbying effort has been led by former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD), and former chief of staff to Sen. Wendell Ford (R-MI), Robert Mangas. Exxon's campaign in support of the bill is led by veteran lobbyist Jamie Conrad.
A Koch Industries-affiliated group, the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), has also lobbied for passage of the bill. Koch subsidiary Georgia Pacific is a dues-paying member of AFPA and its director, Paul Noe — AFPA's Vice President for Public Policy — is under consideration to head up the powerful White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
While the bill has many proponents generally tied to corporate America, it also has its fair share of critics.
“The independence of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its ability to continue its work with the caliber of experts it currently employs would be seriously jeopardized by this proposal,” wrote Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a March 8 blog post on the bill.
“This is simply a way to deter academic scientists from pursuing a slot on the SAB, opening up opportunities for industry interests who would never be in need of government funding to join the Board.”
Members of the EPA advisory board with affiliations to corporate interests are already allowed to serve, as long as they receive a waiver from the EPA Office of General Counsel's Ethics Office. John Deutch, who sat on the board of directors for gas-exporting company Cheniere, was given such a clearance by the Obama administration.
The bill, Reed further detailed, has language explaining that those with such financial ties to private industry are “not excluded” from being on the board, meaning a conflicts-of-interest check would no longer exist. Former Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who now heads up the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), decried the bill during a February hearing.
“That is a science advisory board — it will not function better by having fewer scientists on it. It is supposed to look at science. But in the name of balance and diversity, there’s an effort to make it, well … less scientific,” said Holt.