By Laura Craig, American Rivers
Science is critical to environmental decision-making, yet it is continually and shamelessly marginalized by the current administration. Several recent actions send a clear message that the administration does not value the objective science that should underpin environmental policies and regulations:
Dismissing Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency
Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed more than half of the scientists comprising the Board of Scientific Counselors, a committee that evaluates the EPA’s research and peer-review practices and provides recommendations for improving the rigor and quality of the science they produce. The unexpected dismissal of these advisors—many of which are academic researchers—is concerning because of the potential for their positions to be filled by industry-approved scientists.
Removing Scientific Data and Research
Late last month, the Trump administration removed data and other information about climate change from the EPA website. The webpage that once shared ”what EPA is doing about climate change” now redirects to a message letting the public know that the website is being updated “to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt”. According to an EPA spokesperson this change was made to “eliminate confusion by removing outdated language”, effectively stating that there will be a conflict between the published science and the administration’s positions and actions. And, though facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored, this action highlights the administration’s willingness to conceal scientific knowledge and make it less accessible to a concerned public.
Weakening the Credibility of the Scientific Review
In March, the U.S. House passed H.R.1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017. EPA’s Science Advisory Board is another, larger group of external advisors that ensures that the science used for EPA rulemaking is unbiased and credible. H.R. 1431 includes provisions to allow experts to join the Science Advisory Board even if they have ties to regulated industry, thus effectively ending the Board’s independence. Changes to the composition of the Science Advisory Board that favor industry could support the use of biased, outdated, or otherwise unreliable science in decision-making.
The potential environmental and human health consequences of policies and regulations that disregard objective science are enormous. The administration has already rescinded the Stream Protection Rule that safeguarded streams from coal mining pollution and rolled back the scientifically-supported Clean Water Rule that clarified protections for small streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
Without a doubt, an administration that devalues science is a huge problem for streams, rivers, and the communities that depend on them.