EPA Urges Court to Dismiss Challenge to Advisory Boards

MARCH 13, 2018

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion last week on behalf of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, requesting dismissal of the lawsuit challenging the Agency’s new advisory board membership guidelines. The government argued that Pruitt’s policy announced last fall that prevents EPA grant recipients from serving on the Agency’s external advisory committees is consistent with government ethics rules and is within the EPA administrator’s authority to pick his own advisors.

“Plaintiffs make the extraordinary claim that the EPA’s effort to ensure a diversity of viewpoints on advisory committees that provide advice and recommendations to the administrator somehow violates government-wide ethics rules. But the directive that plaintiffs challenge does no such thing,” the government wrote in the motion. The DOJ continued, “Ultimately, the power to appoint committee members is the administrator’s alone and is non-reviewable by the courts under the circumstances presented here. Plaintiffs’ challenge to these highly discretionary policy judgments and the EPA’s power to make them is unprecedented and should be rejected by the court.”

The government’s motion was filed in response to the lawsuit initiated by former EPA Advisory Board members and other interested parties, including the Physicians for Social Responsibly, challenging Administrator Pruitt’s conflict of interest policy for individuals seeking to participate on its advisory boards as unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious. It previously reported that, over the past three years, grantees on three principal EPA advisory committees had received $77 million in grants from the agency. The plaintiffs contend that many of the advisors forced out were replaced by industry representatives or Republican-friendly individuals.

The advisory boards review EPA research programs and plans, review the quality and relevance of the scientific information used by the Agency, and make recommendations to the Administrator on a wide array of issues. Another lawsuit challenging Administrator Pruitt’s directive is pending in Massachusetts.