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Big win in court! PSR Lawsuit Overturns EPA Limits On Scientific Advisory Boards

By Barbara Gottlieb

A court ruling in a lawsuit where PSR was the lead plaintiff has overturned the U.S. EPA’s effort to block some scientists from serving on EPA advisory boards. In other words, we won!

The case, Physicians for Social Responsibility v. Scott Pruitt, was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. At stake was EPA’s policy barring scientists who currently receive EPA grant money from serving on any EPA science advisory committee, allegedly because the grantees would be biased.  At the same time, EPA imposed no comparable limits on industry representatives who might serve on the advisory bodies.

PSR’s attorneys, from the environmental law firm Earthjustice, argued that the policy forced highly qualified scientists and medical professionals off of EPA advisory boards; created an imbalance by allowing persons receiving industry funding to serve; and overlooked the well-established rules established within the Office of Government Ethics.

The integrity of EPA’s science advisory boards is essential to a wide range of public health and environmental policymaking at EPA.

PSR’s voice was represented in the suit by two PSR members who received EPA grant money and were interested in serving on EPA science committees. They are Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and Jonathan I. Levy, ScD, Professor of Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Boston University.

The court in its opinion stated that while EPA’s earlier policy facilitated the “critical role played by EPA’s scientific advisory committees,” its new position represented “a major break from the agency’s prior policy,” under which grantees regularly served on advisory committees.

Tellingly, the court noted that the EPA’s new policy “nowhere confronts the possibility that excluding grant recipients—that is, individuals who EPA has independently deemed qualified enough to receive competitive funding—from advisory committees might exclude [the most qualified] candidates.”

The lawsuit was launched in December 2017.