U.S. EPA is sued for ousting scientists from advisory committees

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was sued on Monday by a nonprofit over a recent directive banning many scientists from panels that advise the agency on scientific matters.

FILE PHOTO: An empty podium awaits the arrival of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to address staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC said the Oct. 31, 2017 directive from Wheeler’s predecessor Scott Pruitt upended decades of EPA practices “for no good reason” and without required public comment.

It said the agency has since used the directive to remove qualified scientists from its roughly 23 advisory committees, freeing it to replace them with industry representatives.

Monday’s complaint seeks to set aside the directive and all decisions based on it.

The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pruitt’s directive barred anyone receiving EPA grant money from serving on the advisory panels, citing a need for the panels to be more independent.

“Whatever science comes out of EPA, shouldn’t be political science,” Pruitt said at the time.

The directive was welcomed at the time by conservatives opposed to excessive regulation and condemned by Democrats and environmental groups.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to roll back what he considers burdensome environmental regulations to make the government more friendly to drilling, manufacturing and mining businesses.

The NRDC said it had legal standing to sue because some of its members include scientists who would have to forgo grants or professional opportunities under the directive.

The case is Natural Resources Defense Council Inc v. EPA et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-05174.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot