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More business reps could soon be on EPA science panelsby Kellan Howell
Issues

WATCH | At least 12 members of one of the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisory boards were dismissed this weekend with no warning.  Administration officials say the shakedown is meant to make the boards more objective and fair, but scientists are worried about conflicts of interest. 

No warning 

Members of the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises the EPA on the scientific integrity of its research said they didn't see this coming.  

John P. Tharakan, a chemical engineering professor at Howard University and a member of the board said the decision "came as a shock to all of us." 

He said members recently had a conference call with administrators and were given no indication of any coming changes.

Board member Robert Richardson announced his termination on Twitter.

Making room for industry reps 

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, told the New York Times that business representatives could fill the spots vacated by the board members. 

"The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire told the Times. 

A break from regulations for businesses

The shakedown at the EPA comes just a few weeks after the House passed a bill to reform the agency's Science Advisory Board to include more input from business leaders. 

Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who wrote the so-called HONEST Act, applauded the advisory board changes in a statement on Sunday. 

"This decision increases transparency, reduces conflicts of interest, and ensures balance on expert panels," Smith said. 

Conflict of interest 

But Tharakan said including business representatives from the industries which the advisory boards regulate creates more conflicts of interest.

"Scott Pruitt suggesting that industry leaders, especially industry leaders from the industry that would be the focus of environmental regulations that the EPA developed are akin to asking the fox to watch the chicken coop," he said. 

More changes could be coming 

It's not just the EPA. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has suspended all outside advisory committees for the department while he conducts a review of their composition and work.