Federal Court Allows Challenge to EPA Science-Advice Restrictions to Proceed

Published Mar 23, 2020

WASHINGTON (March 23, 2020)—Today, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that UCS’s lawsuit challenging the EPA’s policy banning scientists who receive agency funding from sitting on advisory committees may proceed. The court reversed the lower court’s judgment dismissing the case and sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration of the claims. The case was filed by plaintiffs Dr. Elizabeth A. (Lianne) Sheppard and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), who contend that the ban is arbitrary, capricious, and has no scientific or legal grounding.

“Today’s decision shows that the Trump administration’s attempt to rig scientific advisory boards is legally questionable,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. “We’re gratified that we’ll get another chance to challenge this policy on behalf of the scientific community. Based on dishonest arguments, political appointees at the EPA undermined the whole purpose of scientific advice by putting up unnecessary barriers to scientists who want to participate. The Trump administration has disbanded or ignored scientific advisory bodies, and the arbitrary restrictions on who can serve on these panels is yet another way the administration is curtailing independent science advice.”

Attorneys arguing the case hold that the administration’s ban violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

“This is good news for our clients’ efforts to protect the role of independent science in a robust democracy,” said Jamila Benkato, counsel at Protect Democracy. “Accurate, unbiased scientific advice informs lawmakers’ priorities and government agencies’ adoption and implementation of policies. We’ll continue our challenge to this ban, which undermines the relationship between facts and policy. We need independent scientists, and their expertise, now more than ever.”

Plaintiffs are represented pro bono by Jenner & Block LLP and Protect Democracy.