(CN) – The Sierra Club is blasting a decision by the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Committee that found administrator Scott Pruitt didn’t violate agency policy with comments he made indicating he does not believe carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change.
A panel of senior staffers was assembled for the express purpose of investigating environmentalist complaints lodged against Pruitt, namely a formal complaint submitted to the EPA’s inspector general by the Sierra Club in March.
Immediately upon hearing of the committee’s ruling on Wednesday, Elena Saxonhouse, a senior attorney for Sierra Club, released a statement that said “Scott Pruitt has repeatedly violated scientific integrity principles in his position as leader of the EPA, both in his public communications and through his disastrous public policy.
“From removing scientists from advisory boards, to deleting climate science and information from public websites, to blatantly ignoring scientists’ advice to ban a dangerous pesticide, Pruitt is making his mark and undermining the faith of the American people in this administration. Pruitt’s statements on CNBC were not merely a scientific “opinion”, as EPA’s letter suggests. With his many close ties to the fossil fuel industry, it is clear they were a politically motivated attempt to obfuscate basic facts that EPA scientists have studied and verified for years. Unfortunately, this letter effectively lets Pruitt off the hook for deceiving the American public regularly in high profile contexts,” Saxonhouse said.
The Sierra Club submitted the complaint after Pruitt appeared on CNBC’s news talk show, Squawk Box on March 9. During an interview, Pruitt said of carbon dioxide “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there is tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to global warming that we see… We don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and analysis.”
The EPA’s communications office announced its decision to clear Pruitt of any wrongdoing in a news alert it issued Tuesday night. The news alert included a link to a story about the decision from the conservative media outlet, The Washington Free Beacon.
The Free Beacon article featured an undated letter from Thomas Sinks Jr., the director of the EPA’s Office of Science to Sierra Club senior attorney Elena Saxonhouse and the club’s chief climate counsel Joanne Spalding.
“When an agency employee substantively engaged in the science informing an agency policy decision disagrees with the scientific data, scientific interpretations or scientific conclusions that will be relied upon for said agency decision, the employee is encouraged to express that opinion,” Sinks wrote.
While the clearing of Pruitt’s comments appeared in line with the agency’s policies, what didn’t sit well with the Sierra Club was the method of delivery.
ClimateWire reported that Saxonhouse confirmed the club had not received any formal response to its complaint directly.
“We have not yet received EPA response to our request and have been told by EPA staff that the proper process is for the party that filed the complaint to be informed first, not the media,” she said.
Further, Sinks letter failed to address the crux of the Sierra club’s original complaint, that it’s the “responsibility of every EPA employee to communicate about science with honesty and integrity,” Saxonhouse said.
Given Pruitt’s high position at the EPA, it’s imperative that an administrator be held to a higher standard, Saxonhouse now says the agency is failing to consider the “weighty consequences” Pruitt’s opinions may have on scientists who work beneath him.
But, according to the Scientific Integrity Review Panel, Pruitt merely expressed an opinion which “called for more debate, review and analysis as a precursor to any future EPA policy decision on the matter.”
“Expressing an opinion about science is not a violation of the EPA Scientific Integrity Policy. Indeed, the Scientific Integrity Policy – in the spirit of promoting vigorous debate and inquir- specifically encourages employees to express their opinion should the employee disagree with scientific data, scientific interpretations, or scientific conclusions,” Sinks wrote.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.