May 12, 2017 / 6:17 PM / 2 months ago

Two scientists resign to protest U.S. EPA dismissals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two scientists who serve on an independent board reviewing Environmental Protection Agency research resigned on Friday to protest what they see as a weakening of scientific integrity of the agency.

Carlos Martin and Peter Meyer, scientists who served on a subcommittee of the Board of Scientific Counselors, said they were alarmed by an agency decision last Friday not to renew the contracts for two executive committee members of the board and possibly replace them with industry representatives.

"We cannot in good conscience be complicit in our co-chairs’ removal, or in the watering down of credible science, engineering, and methodological rigor that is at the heart of that decision," the scientists wrote in their resignation letters.

In addition to not renewing the scientists' contracts, the EPA is in the process of revamping its website to reflect the new priorities of the Trump administration and Administrator Scott Pruitt. The website no longer contains links on climate change.

Last Friday, the agency informed the nine board members whose three-years terms had expired at the end of April that they would not be automatically renewed as they had expected. The 18-member board reports to the EPA's office of research and development.

One of those members, Michigan State University professor of community sustainability Robert Richardson, told Reuters that the move came as a surprise because the work they were doing was “apolitical.”

He expressed concern that the board would be "repopulated with business friendly scientists, pushing a questionable kind of science."

Martin and Meyer said in their letter that they were also troubled by a proposed 40 percent budget cut in 2018 for the EPA's office of research and development. More details of the budget are expected to be released later this month.

Environmental groups raised concerns Friday about the administration's view of the role of scientists in environmental policy.

"This is another sign that Trump’s administration and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are engaging in an intentional effort to put decisions about public health and safety in the hands of industry and corporate polluters instead of scientists and doctors," said Liz Perera, public health director of the Sierra Club.

The EPA was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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