The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering downgrading an office that makes sure it uses the best science to make decisions. Two former EPA officials in Indiana say it’s another move by the Trump administration to diminish the role of scientists.
The Office of the Science Advisor counsels the EPA administrator and makes sure all parts of the agency work off similar scientific conclusions. The EPA wants to merge the Office of the Science Advisor with the Office of Science Policy, which would give it less authority.
Jim Barnes is an Indiana University environmental law professor who served under two administrators at the EPA. He says not all science is good science and the administrator needs someone who can help them make decisions based on sound research.
“Many of the administrators at EPA have been lawyers, rare to have a scientist on top,” Barnes says.
Furthermore, the science is not the only thing the EPA considers when making regulations. Barnes says when the agency is deciding whether or not a pesticide can be used, for example, it might weigh the overall benefits of that pesticide to society against how much it might harm humans and wildlife.
That's why it’s critical that someone representing sound scientific research has access to the administrator, says Janet McCabe. McCabe works for Indiana University’s Grand Challenges Environmental Resilience Institute and formerly worked with the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.
“This is one more step in a number of steps that this administration has taken that are very concerning with the respect to the role that they are giving to science,” she says.
Under President Donald Trump, the EPA has cut the budget for its research branch, replaced some scientists on its scientific advisory board with industry scientists, and proposed a rule that would make it so the EPA could only use research with publicly available data and methods — which Barnes says often rules out medical studies that contain subjects' personal information.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.