EPA chief purging Trump-era advisors to 'focus on science and reduce industry influence'

In a move aimed at restoring the role of science at—and public trust in—the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Michael Regan announced Wednesday that more than 40 advisers appointed by former President Donald Trump will be fired from the agency.

"When politics drives science rather than science informing policy, we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us."
—EPA Administrator Michael Regan

The Washington Post reports Regan's purge will include Trump appointees who informed EPA policies and actions that favored the agenda of polluting corporations and industries over protecting the environment and addressing the climate crisis.

Trump-appointed members on two EPA panels—the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)— helped thwart or roll back regulations related to air pollution, fracking, and other environmental issues.

"Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment," Regan—a former EPA regulator and head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality— said in a statement.

Regan's move is one of numerous steps taken by the Biden administration to restore scientific integrity throughout the federal government after the anti-science years of the Trump administration.

The former administration downplayed or outright denied the climate crisis; the coronavirus pandemic; the harmful effects of fossil fuel extraction and use; the dangers of carcinogenic pesticides, asbestos, and other toxins; and many other facts that conflicted with its pro-corporate and pro-polluter agenda.

Declaring that the American people "deserve access to science and data," Regan earlier this month restored the EPA's climate change website, which had been shut down under former Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt also led a purge of scientific advisers who refused to toe the fossil fuel industry line, and along with his successor Andrew Wheeler—a former coal lobbyist—raised alarm by elevating individuals with industry connections and often scientifically dubious views to imporant agency panels.

One of these people, former Big Oil and chemical consultant Tony Cox, was chosen by Pruitt in 2017 to lead an EPA air pollution advisory board.

In a letter to EPA staff earlier this month, Regan wrote that "when politics drives science rather than science informing policy, we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us."

Regan added that "manipulating, suppressing, or otherwise impeding science has real world consequences for human health and the environment."

Environmental advocates applauded Regan's dismissals.

"It only makes sense to go back to the drawing board," Genna Reed, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Post.

Christopher Zarba, a retired EPA official who led the agency's office that coordinates with scientific panels, called Regan's move "absolutely warranted." Zarba told the Post that during the Trump era, "lots and lots of the best people were excluded from being considered" for positions on science committees, and that individuals who were tapped for posts "did not accurately represent mainstream science."

While green groups and activists welcomed moves like restoring the EPA climate site and purging advisory boards, they stressed that the Biden administration must act more urgently to combat the climate crisis, protect the planet, pursue environmental justice, and curb the influence of polluters.

Donna Chavis, senior fossil fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said earlier this month that "Regan and the EPA have a new opportunity to place environmental justice at the center of the agency and the United States' approach to the climate crisis."

Chavis, who is also an elder of the Lumbee Nation, urged Regan to "take bold and visionary steps to rebuild the EPA and address the very real climate crisis we face in the U.S. and globally."