State attorneys general argue against advisory panel restrictions

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 29, 2018

For a coalition of state attorneys general, a discredited study used to justify the proposed repeal of an Obama-era truck emissions rule also helps make the case against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s membership restrictions for the agency’s advisory panels.

Those restrictions, imposed last fall, bar current EPA grant recipients from serving on its advisory committees. While Pruitt has said the policy is supposed to promote members’ “objectivity,” critics say there’s no such ban on recipients of industry funding.

It’s an argument taken up by Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson (D) and representatives of nine other states in a friend-of-the-court brieffiled yesterday on behalf of one set of plaintiffs challenging Pruitt’s policy.

“Replacing an entire category of highly competent scientists with industry science means that EPA’s capacity to identify and appropriately counteract environmental harms will be stunted,” Ferguson and the other state attorneys general wrote in the brief, adding that “more lives may be harmed and lost” as a result.

As evidence, they point to the Tennessee Tech University research cited last year by EPA in its proposed rollback of emissions regulations for so-called glider kits, which are new truck chassis equipped with refurbished engines and power trains. The agency, contradicting its own staff, used the Tennessee Tech study to argue that gliders kits are more efficient and cleaner than new trucks.

Underwriting the study was Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a Tennessee-based company that would benefit from the EPA proposal. In February, however, Tennessee Tech President Philip Oldham wrote to Pruitt that the study’s accuracy had come under question and asked EPA to avoid using it until an internal investigation was complete (Greenwire, Feb. 23).

Also signing on to the brief were the attorneys general for California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Oregon and the top lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. All either are Democrats or — in Pennsylvania’s case — represent a Democratic governor. Since Pruitt put the policy in place, the result has been an increase in the “presence of lobbyists and industry insiders with a vested interest in ensuring that EPA policy sways to the benefit of their employers’ and sponsors’ interests,” their brief says.

The lawsuit, brought by a half-dozen advocacy groups and university researchers, is one of three challenging Pruitt’s policy in various federal courts. EPA is asking a judge to dismiss the suit, partly on the grounds that Pruitt has unfettered authority to make appointments to EPA advisory panels. Earlier this week, a group of former EPA officials, including onetime acting chief Bob Perciasepe, also sought court approval to weigh in on behalf of the plaintiffs (Greenwire, June 26).