Members of science subcommittee resign in protest

By Kevin Bogardus | 05/12/2017 01:06 PM EDT

Two U.S. EPA science advisers resigned in protest today over the agency’s decision to not bring back some of their colleagues.

Two U.S. EPA science advisers resigned today in protest over the agency's decision to not bring back some of their colleagues.

Two U.S. EPA science advisers resigned today in protest over the agency's decision to not bring back some of their colleagues. Photo by E&E News.

Members of a U.S. EPA science advisory panel resigned in protest today over the agency’s move last week to not bring back some of their colleagues.

Carlos Martín and Peter Meyer of the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Subcommittee, which supports EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, sent their resignation letter to the agency officials.

"It is with certain regret and concern — and in protest — that we submit our resignations," they said, taking note of EPA’s move not to renew the terms of their subcommittee’s co-chairs, Courtney Flint and Robert Richardson, who served on BOSC itself.


"It has been an honor to serve with them, and a shock to witness the refusal of EPA officials to renew their positions. It is a shock from which we cannot easily recover nor which we readily accept," Martín and Meyer said in the letter.

Peter Meyer
Peter Meyer. | Photo courtesy of Meyer via LinkedIn.

This morning, Martín tweeted out the resignation letter, saying, "Painful professional decision. #standupforscience."

EPA’s action last week to not renew the three-year terms of half of the 18-member scientific counselor board’s members sparked a fierce backlash by critics of the Trump administration. Traditionally, members of the board have their terms renewed to serve two terms on the body.

Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that he wants to diversify membership on the board and that members whose terms expired can reapply to join the advisory panel.

"The recent firing that took place, there was no firing that took place. These individuals can apply, will apply, I’m sure, in some instances, and very well could be put back on the board. But it’s the right thing to do to ensure transparency, objectivity, peer-reviewed science and geographical representation on the board," Pruitt told talk show host Hugh Hewitt yesterday (Greenwire, May 11).

That hasn’t soothed anxiety among EPA’s advisers who are wondering whether they, too, will see terms not renewed by the agency.

"This portends for much worse. I don’t want to be a shill for bad science," Martín, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, told E&E News.

"The EPA budget cuts, the rhetoric around industry lobbyists on science boards — it’s just a hard time to be a believer in science, the scientific method and what scientific enterprise has meant for the country."

Carlos Martín
Carlos Martín | Photo courtesy of @carlosonhousing via Twitter.

In their resignation letter, Martín and Meyer note that President Trump has proposed a $233 million budget cut for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. In addition, they said they believe Flint’s and Richardson’s removals from the science board show that EPA doesn’t value their work, and they have "deep concerns" about EPA leadership’s "continued obfuscation of scientific evidence and the research enterprise."

"We cannot in good conscience be complicit in our co-chairs’ removal, or in the watering down of credible science, engineering, and methodological rigor that is at the heart of that decision," they wrote.

Martín and Meyer’s subcommittee is one of several that supports BOSC’s executive committee, which is where Flint and Robertson served. Their particular group looked at how to improve environmental health of communities and how to best clean up waste — during their last meeting in November last year, they discussed oil and fuel releases as well as contaminated sites.

"Our subcommittee was composed not just of scientists but social scientists, engineers and planners," Martín said. "We were among the most multidisciplinary of the subcommittees."

It’s not clear who will still be serving on the subcommittee in the future. Martín said he has been told by EPA that the agency is reviewing BOSC and its subcommittee members’ terms and whether or not they will renewed.

Meyer, president and chief economist of the E.P. Systems Group Inc., told E&E News that Flint and Richardson not being asked to return to BOSC was a major impetus for his and Martín’s resignations.

"When Robert and Courtney were not renewed, that was a signal to Carlos and me that the task was being terminated, and we objected to the task being terminated," Meyer said.

Meyer said there have been discussions among other subcommittee members about also resigning in protest.

"At the moment, there is only two of us," Meyer said. "There is a half-dozen other members of the subcommittee who are thinking about leaving."

EPA officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the advisers’ resignations.