The Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. Former Administrator Scott Pruitt said a policy was intended to ensure the objectivity of advisory panel members.

REUTERS/Newscom

Third court upholds EPA policy barring grantees from its advisory panels

Originally published by E&E News

A federal judge today dismissed a third lawsuit challenging a far-reaching EPA restriction on advisory committee membership, likely dealing a fatal blow to opponents’ hopes of overturning the policy anytime soon.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor said the Union of Concerned Scientists had failed to show that the 2017 directive by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Saylor, based in the District of Massachusetts, also said the Boston-based advocacy group had failed to state a legal claim for which relief could be granted.

The group, often known by its acronym UCS, filed the suit in January 2018, three months after Pruitt had generally barred EPA grant recipients from serving on agency advisory committees. Federal judges in other states also recently threw out two challenges brought by a variety of other organizations. Taken together, the three rulings make it probable that the policy will survive through the end of President Trump's current term in January 2021.

In an email, EPA spokesman James Hewitt said the agency is reviewing the decision and is pleased that Saylor granted its dismissal motion.

UCS’s Genna Reed said the group is looking at its appeal options and again blasted the policy as unjustified on scientific or ethical grounds.

“It’s clearly meant to achieve political ends, not help agencies get the best advice,” Reed, lead science and policy analyst for UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, said in a statement.

In ordering the ban, Pruitt said it was intended to ensure the objectivity of members of almost two dozen federal advisory committees that provide outside expertise to EPA on a range of issues. Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, his successor as EPA administrator, have cited the policy in reshaping the membership of two particularly important panels, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the Science Advisory Board.

Joining the Union of Concerned Scientists as a plaintiff in its suit was a now-former member of the air committee.

But documents released in another of the three lawsuits indicated that Pruitt had relied heavily on input from Republican lawmakers and trade groups in devising the policy (Greenwire, May 24, 2018).

An E&E News review last fall found that the agency has made little or no attempt at enforcement at many other lower-profile advisory committees (Greenwire, Sept. 21, 2018).

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net.