Interior and EPA advisory boards undergo review

By Jamila Blake

©BLM

On May 5, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that meetings for advisory councils, boards, committees, and panels will be postponed while they undergo a review process. On the same day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed 12 scientists from their Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) that their terms would not be renewed.

Heather Swift, an Interior Spokeswoman, stated that it is necessary to postpone these meetings during the review process. “To maximize feedback from these boards and ensure their compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the president’s recent executive orders, the department is currently reviewing the charter and charge of each board/advisory committee.”

The review was instituted following the recent Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. The Order requires the review of existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and agency actions that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources” — including resources on federal lands. The Order also rescinds previous presidential and regulatory actions including a 2013 Presidential Memo on Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment and the Council on Environmental Quality’s Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews.

Interior maintains more than 200 advisory boards designed to advise agency officials by providing independent recommendations and diverse opinions on behalf of the public. These boards are established through the U.S. General Services Administration following a request from the sponsoring agency when their assistance is determined to be essential to performing an agency’s duty or responsibility. There are 38 chartered advisory committees associated just with the Bureau of Land Management, including the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, 30 Resource Advisory Councils, and committees associated with BLM’s National Conservation Lands. The National Park Service receives guidance from the National Park System Advisory Board to advise the NPS director and the Secretary of the Interior on matters including the administration of the Historic Sites, Buildings, and the Antiquities Act.

A coalition of 8 Democratic Western Senators sent Secretary Ryan Zinke a letter on May 11 urging him to allow the advisory councils to continue with their scheduled meetings during this internal review.

At the EPA, 12 members of BOSC were notified that their terms on the board would not be renewed. Many were under the impression that they would continue to serve another term on the board, as has been common practice for BOSC. Scott Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson said in an email that all board members whose terms are not being renewed could reapply for their positions.

On May 18, several House Democrats sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt expressing their concerns over the departure of the board members. They have also requested documentation as to why the decision was made.

There have also been recent efforts towards reform of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), which includes the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. At a February hearing, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) argued that SAB should include more non-academic membership. In March, Rep. Frank Lucas’ (R-OK) bill, EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 (H.R.1431), passed the House and is currently waiting for Senate approval. The bill would revise the requirements for membership to SAB and implement additional public participation requirements.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.