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EPA Critic’s Claims Don’t Hold Up Under Close Examination

Deborah Swackhamer told Rachel Maddow a wild tale about the EPA. The only problem? Almost none of it is true.

Scott Pruitt EPA Administrator

When Deborah Swackhamer appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” this week, the scientist and chair of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) was treated like a sort of whistleblower.

Swackhamer accused the EPA of cutting BOSC’s membership from 68 to 11, backing out of an agreement to automatically renew all members, suspending all BOSC activities, and intimidating witnesses.

Maddow, ever eager for a Trump administration controversy, ate it up without question. But a closer look at these claims reveals Swackhamer’s claims are in some cases wildly exaggerated and in others, simply not true.

Swackhamer: The board used to be composed of 68 members but is now just 11 members, and members were supposed to be renewed at the end of their first-term.

Here Swackhamer left out a key detail that changes the entire tone of the claim. The fact is that board members’ terms expired. EPA encouraged all members whose terms expired to re-apply, and the agency is working to fill these spots, according to an EPA source. All BOSC members are appointed by the EPA administrator, and it is the EPA’s policy that no member has a guaranteed renewal to ensure the board maintains its quality and diversity.

Swackhamer: BOSC activities have been suspended and future meetings cancelled.

In truth, the EPA is in the process of filling vacancies, according to a source, and meetings are scheduled to reconvene as soon as possible. It’s also important to note that BOSC members do not review the science used by the EPA for rulemaking. The EPA’s experiments, findings, and meetings are continuing as usual.

Swackhamer: EPA’s chief of staff sent intimidating emails prior to my testimony before the House Science, Space & Technology committee.

Unfortunately, political motivations are at play here. Swackhamer was invited to speak by the Democratic minority, and her testimony had nothing to do with the scope of the hearing, which was to be about the role that states play in U.S. rulemaking. Here is an excerpt of statement from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the committee’s chairman:

It’s unfortunate that the Minority has tried to hijack committee hearings for their own politically motivated agenda. It is clear that the Minority invited Dr. Swackhamer to testify because she was a member of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, despite protestations from the Minority that she was testifying only in her ‘personal capacity.’

In email communications released by the EPA to the House committee, it’s clear Swackhamer failed to adhere to established review practices set forth for testimony provided by EPA-affiliated witnesses when testifying before congressional committees.