EPA chucks science out of its science mission statement

8 Mar 2017

Image: mykhailo pavlenko/Shutterstock

How the EPA will operate under a Donald Trump presidency has already raised some serious concerns, but the latest revelation threatens the very role of science in the organisation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US finds itself divided between the thousands of staff members working on scientific research, and the management and policies driven by a new administration that is sceptical of climate change.

Last month, staff protested the expected appointment of Republican Scott Pruitt as the new head of the EPA with fears that up to two-thirds of its staff could be let go as part of a massive shake-up.

Since his appointment, Pruitt has begun filling the EPA with similar-minded conservatives who challenge the current scientific understanding of climate change.

New Republic is reporting that scientists and academics who have been working to save and track changes made to the EPA’s mission statements and webpages have found one major issue: the removal of science from the literature.

In particular, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has, in the space of a week, removed phrases such as “science-based” from the section describing its activities.

Not nuanced changes

In its place, the text now reads that it develops “national economically and technologically achievable performance standards” that will allow the EPA to remove limitations on pollution levels in air and water.

“This is probably the most important thing we’ve found so far,” said Gretchen Gehrke, one of those working with the tracking team at the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.

“The language changes here are not nuanced – they have really important regulatory implications.”

This alteration follows a letter sent by a group of attorneys general representing fossil fuel firms, who urged Pruitt to disregard the demands made by the EPA last year, calling on the same companies to put pollution checks in place.

Benefits for business

In a statement, Pruitt said the decision to remove the checks was a benefit to businesses.

“By taking this step, EPA is signalling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states,” he said.

“Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry.”

However, Andrew Rosenberg from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said this challenges the EPA’s role as a protector of public health.

“It seems like this EPA and this administration broadly seem to view their job as being a support for business as opposed to safeguarding public health,” he said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic