Science advisory boards serve across the federal government as a resource for policy-makers who want to make sure their work is based on facts. Of course, this is less of a concern in the Trump administration, and the on-going replacement of experts on various science boards rarely rises above the din of the day’s scandals.
But that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant!
For example, when Scott Pruitt began replacing academics with industry hacks on EPA advisory panels, his claim was that scientists whose work was funded by the EPA would be biased when advising the EPA. Now, we might believe this was a good-faith concern if it weren’t for the fact that the people brought in to replace them were themselves so obviously biased. Some of the ousted members sued, and it’s looking like a judge is going to let the case continue after the government asked to stop it at a hearing on December 7th. But the outcome is still a long way off, and until then the current board will be under the influence of Pruitt’s pro-pollution advisors.
For example, the new chair of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, whose work has been funded by the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry. But, deniers say, just because someone is funded by Big Oil doesn’t mean Big Oil is influencing their work.
With Cox, however, that has proven not to be the case. For some reason, he sent E&E News a study he did that shows his funder, the American Petroleum Institute, made edits to it. So we should keep that in mind as he leads the review of whether PM2.5 pollution emitted by fossil fuels (and tobacco) hurt public health, focusing on a question that may violate a Supreme Court ruling.
Meanwhile, at the Department of Interior, the inheritor to Scott Pruitt’s Throne of Scandals Ryan Zinke has similarly purged experts from an advisory board and replaced them with political cronies.
It’s been nearly a year since 10 of the 12 members of the DoI’s National Park System Advisory board resigned in protest over Zinke potentially illegal refusal to let them convene, and he’s finally gotten around to replacing them.
Obviously he wasn’t going to put qualified academics in their seat, choosing instead to install a bunch of GOP donors and executives on the board. While two-thirds of Obama’s 12 selected members were women and many were from diverse backgrounds, the Washington Post notes that all of the new members appear to be white, 9 of 11 are men, and every single one is either a registered Republican or have voted in Republican primaries. Three of them have given over a half million to GOP candidates and causes in the past decade. One, Billy Hewes, was the national chairman of ALEC, and another is the cousin of “anti-federal-lands zealot” Ken Ivory according to HuffPo.
Speaking of ivory, the Washington Post’s coverage ends by noting that Zinke created another panel, the International Wildlife Conservation Council, to promote killing exotic animals abroad under the guise of protecting them. Four of the people Zinke put on that panel held a “Camouflage & Cufflinks” celebration after Trump’s inauguration, and Trump sons Don Jr. and Eric were slated to be “honorary co-chairman” of the event. However, they ended up stepping down in the face of accusations that their appearance would look like influence peddling.
It’s funny, given recent events, that Don Jr. somehow manages to be the most ethical person in this saga.