A former University of Minnesota scientist has made national headlines this week after it emerged she claimed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put pressure on her over testimony she was due to give before Congress.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Dr. Deborah Swackhamer, who heads the EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors and who recently retired from the U of M, was asked by EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson to downplay how many expert advisers had been dismissed under the new regime.
The request was revealed following the release of some of Jackson's emails, in which he asked her to stick to the agency's "talking points" concerning the dismissal of scientific board members, with Dr. Swackhamer saying she was "stunned" at the request and "felt bullied."
The story comes amid a concern among the scientific community that the EPA is seeking to weaken the role of academics in its environmental policy.
Dr. Swackhamer had been invited to give testimony to the House Science Committee on May 23, and had been asked by Jackson to tell the committee that no decision on appointments to the Board of Scientific Counselors had been made yet.
But speaking to MPR, Dr. Swackhamer said the number of members will be just 11 by September, compared to almost 70 earlier this year, with many having been told before her testimony that their terms would not be renewed.
"I'm very concerned about the erosion of the value of science at EPA and throughout the rest of federal government, although I'm most familiar with what's going on with EPA," she told MPR.
In her testimony before the panel, ABC News reports Dr. Swackhamer also said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt didn't renew half of the board's 18 executive committee members for second terms, and that an EPA spokesman cited "a need for more representation from industry."
The EPA has not commented on the story, but Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who chairs the House Science Committee, told the New York Times that Dr. Swackhamer was meant to be giving evidence in her personal capacity and not in connection with her role on the EPA board. Smith accused Democrats of trying to "hijack" the hearing by asking her about board dismissals.
According to her U of M bio, Dr. Swackhamer is an expert in air pollution policy, Great Lakes environmental planning and chemical risk management, and joined U of M faculty in 1987.