The Sierra Club tried censoring Scott Pruitt after the EPA administrator said in March that carbon dioxide is not creating climate change. It didn't go well.
In a written response to the Sierra Club, first obtained by the Washington Examiner, Thomas H. Sinks, director of the Office of the Science Advisor, defended Pruitt's "freedom to express one's opinion about science." In short, the EPA told the green group to stop trying to silence their director.
The scuffle over scientific integrity stems from a March 9th CNBC interview. Asked about carbon dioxide's effect on global warming, Pruitt responded, "No, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
And that was enough for the Sierra Club to try to blow the whistle on Pruitt with the EPA Inspector General.
"Pruitt clearly violated the Environmental Protection Agency's Scientific Integrity Policy by publicly denying that carbon pollution is driving the climate crisis," Senior Sierra Club Attorney Elena Saxonhouse wrote in the complaint. "If the EPA's Scientific Integrity Policy is to have any meaning, then this type of clear violation must be strictly enforced and resolved."
But it turns out that the EPA is actually honor-bound to promote inquiry over ideology. The letter cites the agency's Scientific Integrity Policy which states that when an employee "disagrees with the scientific data," they are "encouraged to express that opinion."
Even the Scientific Integrity Panel wasn't buying the Sierra Club's complaint. And that panel, charged with monitoring scientific standards, has been no friend to Pruitt. For instance, as the Washington Examiner first reported in May, the head of that panel actually invited far-left green groups to advise the EPA on scientific integrity.
But when charged with investigating Pruitt's conduct, the panel ruled that his comment "is fully within the protections" of the EPA.
"Expressing an opinion about science is not a violation of the EPA Scientific Integrity Policy," the panel determined. "Indeed the Scientific Integrity Policy — in the spirit of promoting vigorous debate and inquiry — specifically encourages employees to express their opinions should the employees disagree with the scientific data, scientific expressions, or scientific conclusions."
The bottom line in what this bureaucratic back and forth means? First, something similar to scientific inquiry still exists at the EPA. Second, Pruitt understands EPA standards and policies better than the environmental interest groups that used to run the show.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.