This story was updated at 1:20 a.m. EDT.
U.S. EPA fired members of a scientific advisory board yesterday.
The agency quietly forced out some members of the Board of Scientific Counselors just weeks after leaders told them their tenure would be renewed, said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist at Michigan State University and one of those dismissed.
The board is tasked with reviewing the work of EPA scientists and provides feedback that can be a powerful voice in shaping the agency's future research.
The cuts "just came out of nowhere," Richardson said.
"The role that science has played in the agency in the past, this step is a significant step in a different direction," he said today. "Anecdotally, based on what we know about the administrator, I think it will be science that will appear to be friendlier to industry, the fossil fuel industry, the chemical industry, and I think it will be science that marginalizes climate change science."
There are two main science advisory boards at EPA, both of which can hold significant sway over policy and regulation. The Trump administration has proposed a major weakening of both.
Earlier this year, the White House proposed slashing funding for the Science Advisory Board by 84 percent. Such a cut would essentially cripple the work of the 47-member board of outside scholars.
House Republicans have passed legislation to reform the Science Advisory Board, a move critics say is designed to increase the voice of industry in rulemaking. That bill is still awaiting Senate approval.
Richardson said about developments, "This is a significant step toward the erosion of science, and I think that it is happening subtly throughout the agency with this very large proposed budget cut to the Science Advisory Board."
At an April meeting, the Board of Scientific Counselors discussed the importance of climate change research at EPA and "the growing need for information on, and understanding of, climate change and responses to its impacts," according to an agenda. They also talked about the importance of considering climate change as a stressor in areas of non-climate research.
The Trump administration has already sent signals that it does not value some areas of federal research, in particular climate science and work that could lead to further regulation of the fossil fuel and chemical industries.
The board had 18 members, including Richardson, who said he knew of at least one other member fired. Departures could reach a dozen, he said.
EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the scientist's descriptions of being fired were not accurate. He said he is not sure which EPA official told the scientists they would be continuing to advise the agency, but 12 members were now dismissed. He said EPA had already received a number of applications for their replacements and would select candidates from that pool.
"No one was fired," he said. "These folks were appointed for three-year terms, they're not guaranteed a second three-year term."
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