On Tuesday, administrator Scott Pruitt hinted in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation that he will not consider candidates for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Committee if they have received a grant from the agency.
The EPA's Science Advisory Board, was established by Congress in 1978 in order to provide independent, scientific advice to the EPA Administrator and Congressional Committees.
In his speech, Pruitt argued that such a measure would ensure the independence of the board.
"What's most important at the agency is to have scientific advisers that are objective, independent-minded, providing transparent recommendations," Pruitt said.
"If we have individuals who are on those boards, sometimes receiving money from the agency … that to me causes questions on the independence and the veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way."
Pruitt's comments seem to support the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act that Chairman Lamar Smith has been pushing for years without success. The Act would prohibit any candidate from serving on the board if they are the current recipient of an EPA grant or contract.
Yet, the legislation places no such restrictions on candidates who are funded by the oil, gas or chemical industry.
Many outraged and concerned organizations have pointed out that if the legislation is really attempting to curb conflicts-of-interest then scientists who are funded by oil and chemical companies should not be allowed to provide the EPA with advice, either.
A press release from the National Resource Defense Fund (NRDC) points out the hypocrisy of Pruitt's suggested amendments, noting that Pruitt has "no similar plan to bar scientists and consultants working for corporations that have a financial interest in EPA decisions."
Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist in the NRDC's Health program, argues that this represents nothing more than a direct attempt by Pruitt to get rid of scientists who "tell us the facts about threats to our environment and health."
"There's a reason he won't apply the same limits to scientists funded by corporate polluters," she said.
"Now the only scientists on Pruitt's good list will be those with funding from polluters supporting Trump's agenda to make America toxic again."
The Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) is also highly critical of Pruitt's statements. They have called this newest development "a gobsmackingly boneheaded move" that would directly hinder the EPA's core mission to protect human health and the environment.
"They're basically saying that people who are experts in environmental science, who have spent their careers working on this and may have received EPA grants to do their work, are inherently conflicted, whereas people who are working in the industry, who would be impacted by the board's advice, are not conflicted," UCS's Yogin Kothari said.
"I mean, that's bananas, right?"
Pruitt said that he plans to issue a directive next week, but the EPA has declined further comment.