EPA Drops Unlawful “Expert Ban” Challenged by Protect Democracy and Union of Concerned Scientists

Washington, DC – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it is dropping an unlawful policy banning thousands of academic and nonprofit scientists from serving on EPA advisory committees. Protect Democracy and Jenner & Block represent the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and an individual advisory committee member in a lawsuit challenging former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive removing academic and nonprofit scientists who received EPA grants from EPA advisory committees.

“The defeated directive was just one way in which this administration has rejected independent science as a basis for policy making. Unbiased scientific research and fact-based policy making are critical to a healthy democracy,” said Jamila Benkato, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “We’re gratified that the EPA has dropped this policy, and that our clients are able to both pursue their research and advise the government about critical environmental policy.”

Pruitt announced in October 2017 that he would exclude scientists from serving on any of the 23 EPA scientific advisory committees if they had received EPA grants to fund any of their research. The plaintiffs argued that the directive was arbitrary, without any factual or legal grounding, and violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires advisory committees to be fairly balanced and protected from inappropriate influence by the appointing authority.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned a lower court decision dismissing the lawsuit (the opinion is here). The Court found that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged “that the directive skewed the composition of EPA committees in favor of regulated industries,” “that the EPA offered no rational reason for finding that any benefits of the policy justified the alteration of balance and influence,” and that “the EPA did not even acknowledge that the directive had such an effect.”

The plaintiffs contend in their complaint that the directive was an attack on science itself, and that by accusing academic and nonprofit grant-funded scientists of having a conflict of interest, Pruitt sought to portray legitimate, independent scientists—who provide accurate, evidence-based information backed by verifiable, peer-reviewed research—as just another interest group seeking to advance an agenda. But existing laws ensure that grant recipients perform independent scientific research. They are not beholden to the EPA for any particular result, the plaintiffs argued, which serves the public’s interest in ensuring government agencies obtain accurate information in order to make the best policies.

“President Trump and members of his administration have demonstrated a hostility to science, and to developing policy based on impartial and balanced scientific evidence,” said Benkato. “That threatens the ability of ordinary citizens to hold government leaders accountable. A healthy democracy requires a baseline agreement about fundamental facts. Government suppression and delegitimization of scientists and scientific research is anti-democratic, and it impedes the American public’s ability to knowledgeably engage with pressing national issues.”

The lawsuit complaint can be found here.

The First Circuit’s opinion is here.

For more information, visit Safeguarding Independent Science at the EPA.