EPA Takes Steps to Implement New Conflict of Interest Policy

NOVEMBER 13, 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has already begun to implement a recent policy change that effectively bars individuals who receive financial grants from the Agency from serving on any of its federal advisory committees.

Administrator Pruitt last Friday appointed 66 new experts to serve on several EPA scientific committees, many of whom are from private industry or state governments. For example, representatives from Total, Phillips 66, Dow Chemical, Proctor & Gamble as well as Kimberly White, an employee from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), were all appointed to serve.

ACC’s Senior Communications Director Scott Openshaw praised Ms. White’s appointment as well as the other industry representatives, noting it would “help ensure EPA’s scientific review panels are well balanced with perspectives from qualified scientists of diverse backgrounds and board members . . . free of any disqualifying conflicts of interest . . . [that] will help stimulate robust discussion and debate about the matters brought before the panel, which will result in well-vetted advice and recommendations to the administrator.”

According to EPA, thus far, seven scientists have elected to give up their positions on the advisory committees as a result of the new policy and two have elected to give up their federal funding so that they could remain on their advisory committee.

The advisory committees review EPA research programs and plans, review the quality and relevance of the scientific information used by EPA, and makes recommendations and advises the Administrator as well as the Agency generally on a board array of issues.

The appointment of the new committee members is consistent with the principles outlined in Administrator Pruitt’s memo that each “member shall be independent from EPA, which shall include a requirement that no member of an EPA federal advisory committee be currently in receipt of EPA grants . . . and promote the inclusion of new candidates with fresh perspectives and to avoid prolonged and continuous service, membership should be rotated regularly.”

The full effects of the advisory committee overhaul remain to be seen and felt; however, the inclusion of more industry representatives is a good first step that could have significant ramifications for decisions, for example, regarding the potential human health and/or environmental issues that a chemical substance may present.