When oil lobbyist Scott Pruitt moved into the lead chair at the Environmental Protection Agency, the first thing he did, other than assigning himself a small army of bodyguards and setting up ridiculous levels of security, was to get rid of scientists. Advisory panels were gutted. Public databases were hidden. And consulting scientists conducting research for the EPA were shown the door. None of this slowed down under coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.
In October 2018, Wheeler killed the 20-member Particulate Matter Review Panel of outside scientists who were helping the agency with guidelines on how to limit the amount of soot in the atmosphere. The stated reason for closing it down was to “speed up” getting to results by putting in a slim, trim hand-selected group of just seven scientists who were expected to come up with solutions much more to the liking of the fossil fuel industry.
However, as the Washington Post reports, that effort to speed up scientific rule-making by taking out the scientists has run into a snag. The members of the group appointed by Wheeler sent the EPA administrator a letter on April 11 admitting “it does not have sufficient expertise to do the work.” And now the team that Wheeler put in charge is asking nicely if he won’t get the full science panel back. Which means not only that the hand-picked team is crying uncle, but that all the “time-saving” did was absolutely waste seven months.
The seven members of Wheeler’s reduced Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee do include real scientists, many of whom previously worked for state agencies. Many of the states involved—Texas, Alabama, Utah, Mississippi, and Georgia—indicate a decided lean to the appointments, but the members appear to have been very honest in their feedback to Wheeler. More honest, in fact, than he would have liked. The committee advised Wheeler that not only do they lack the expertise needed to complete the assigned task, but they doubt any other group their size would have the necessary range of knowledge. Instead, they need the full team back in place to provide “the world’s best expertise on specialized technical details” to provide the EPA with the best advice.
The EPA has responded that it “will carefully consider the comments and recommendations in the CASAC report.” What it hasn’t done is put the original team back in place. But don’t be surprised if instead of restoring 13 scientists, Wheeler simply cuts seven more.
That will really speed things up.