Shocker: Pruitt pruning advisory board at EPA

Did Scott Pruitt commit an outrage against Science!™, or conduct a normal transition between administrations? The Washington Post reports that the new EPA administrator has chosen not to renew terms of half the appointees on a scientific review board. Those members had completed their terms, but apparently expected to be asked to continue, and the dismissals came as a “surprise”:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has chosen to replace half of the members on one of its key scientific review boards, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the agency evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations. …

But the move came as a surprise to members of the board, who had been informed both in January, before Barack Obama left office, and then more recently by EPA career staff members, that they would be kept on for another term.

The surprise in this case is that they relied on these sources. Perhaps the outgoing administration assumed that the Trump White House simply wouldn’t care enough about this kind of nitty-gritty detail to upend their status quo. If so, they clearly miscalculated, especially given the centrality of the EPA to Donald Trump’s attacks on regulatory overhang on the energy industry and the US economy.

In retrospect, those promises look like a practical joke. Scott Pruitt’s appointment had been known since early December, and he got the job after being a particularly strong critic of the EPA’s process on regulations. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt took the EPA to court in order to challenge the basis of its scientific findings, along with more than two dozen other state AGs. The Obama administration and EPA careerists knew better than most that Pruitt would aim to seriously disrupt their momentum and revamp the approach that the EPA takes with input from its advisory boards, including clearing them out of the previous administration’s appointees.

Perhaps the board members should have seen this as a sign that the outgoing administration and careerists had no clue:

In a budget proposal obtained by The Washington Post last month, the panel is slated for an 84 percent cut — or $542,000 — from its operating budget. That money typically covers travel and other expenses for outside experts who attend the board’s public meetings.

The reasoning behind the budget cut, said the document, reflects “an anticipated lower number of peer reviews.”

Expressing “shock,” as one now-former board member does, over Pruitt’s decision not to maintain the status quo is a good qualification for a Captain Louis Renault Award, but in this case these board members appear to be legitimately duped rather than hypocritically offended. Still, it seems silly that they didn’t anticipate that a transition of administrations and parties would mean a different approach to the EPA, especially given Pruitt’s nomination and background, and the Post’s interest in the “shock and surprise” of such transitions looks more didactic than informative.