During a hectic day in American politics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made moves to eliminate the office that ensures the agency integrates high-quality science into its decisions and policies.
The Office of the Science Advisor serves as an honest broker for cross-agency science, science policy, and technology issues. The EPA will dissolve the office and its functions will be absorbed by other parts of the agency, according to the current Science Advisor.
This change is part of the agency’s reorganization being conducted by acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, who took over for Scott Pruitt after he resigned amid numerous scandals involving use of taxpayer funds and links to lobbyists.
“Clearly, this is an attempt to silence voices whether it’s in the agency’s Office of Children’s Health or the Office of the Science Advisor to kill career civil servants’ input and scientific perspectives on rule-making,” said Michael Mikulka, who leads a union representing 900 EPA employees.
The move also fits a broader distancing of science from environmental policy. Among some of the other controversial changes are the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented, limits on the types of scientific research the agency conducts, and restricting researchers from joining scientific panels that advise the EPA on policy.
“By dissolving the science adviser’s office and putting it several layers down in ORD [Office of Research and Development], that greatly accelerates the decay of science advice within the EPA administrator’s office,” said deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists Michael Halpern. “That kind of coordination is much more difficult to do if they’re buried down inside an office.”
The move also fits a broader pattern of dismissing science employed by the Trump Administration. From his appointments to leading agencies, to considering vaccine critics to lead a panel on autism to asking the Department of Energy to name employees who worked on climate change related issues, Trump made his antagonism toward science clear even before taking office. He’s continued this pattern since.
“Everything from research on chemicals and health, to peer-review testing to data analysis would inevitably suffer,” said Halpern. “We’ve seen what happens when an office gets de-prioritized, they become less visible. The office of environmental justice, which is a shell of what it was before, the Office of Children Health Protection would be equally vulnerable. It’s the more cross cutting programs that tend to be the most vulnerable to politicization.”
He added, “Muddying the waters makes it much easier for the science to be politicized or misrepresented.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.