Lawsuit claims EPA chief Michael Regan violated federal law

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan illegally fired dozens of independent scientific advisers from two key committees earlier this year and replaced them with academics dependent on the agency for grant money, a new lawsuit claims.

Stanley Young, a statistician who has worked on pharmaceutical research and is a former member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), alleged in a complaint filed in Washington, DC federal court Thursday that the March 31 purge by Regan showed that the agency “has a problem with dissent.”

Regan bounced all 47 members of the SAB, including Young, as well as all seven members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). In a statement at the time, Regan justified the move by citing “process irregularities” under the Trump administration — including an October 2017 ban on academics and non-government officials in receipt of EPA grants simultaneously serving on the advisory panels, which the administrator said “significantly restrict[ed] member eligibility.”

Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment,” Regan said. “Today we return to a time-tested, fair, and transparent process for soliciting membership to these critically important advisory bodies.”

 A flag with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) logo flies at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
A former member of the SAB, Stanley Young, filed a complaint in federal court.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

However, Young’s complaint argues that the true purpose of the purge was to create “committees [that] will rubber stamp the new administration’s regulations without the inconvenience of an objecting voice from the very industries targeted by those regulations and bearing the cost of those regulations, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.”

The lawsuit claims that Regan “rapidly proceeded to pack the new committees with academics receiving multi-million dollar research grants from EPA”. It argues that the new appointments violated a 1972 federal law requiring government advisory committees to be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.”

“The committees are now unfairly balanced — both in terms of points of view and the functions the committees are required to perform — because they lack a single member affiliated with regulated industries,” it argues. “EPA also failed to adopt appropriate measures to ensure that the committees are protected from inappropriate influence,” a further violation of the statute.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan addresses the media during a visit to the Water Resource Recovery Facility, Thursday, July 8, 2021
The complaint alleges that Michael Regan violated a 1972 federal law regarding the appointments.
Carlos Osorio/AP

The complaint also alleges that the EPA violated a second federal law, the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, by failing to provide adequate reasoning for the dismissal and reconstitution of the two boards. It notes that Regan “did not claim that any former member had been unqualified to serve on the committees or had rendered unsatisfactory service. Nor did the Administrator claim that his decision was supported by prior agency practice.”

Young asks that a judge set aside the appointments by Regan, prevent the SAB and CASAC from meeting or conducting any business, and stop the EPA from “receiving, relying on, or otherwise using” any of the panels’ recommendations until the bodies are “lawfully constituted.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.



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