November 6, 2017

Because the Bible tells Scott Pruitt so


(This caricature of Scott Pruitt was adapted from a Creative Commons licensed photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia, and rules.)

“Disqualifying the very people who know the most about a subject from serving as advisors makes no sense.” Do I really have to have a take on that? It seems pretty open and shut. But let’s add some context and see if it holds up.

The quote is from Al Teich, professor of Science, Technology, and International Relations at George Washington University. It represents his response when asked by Buzzfeed’s Zahra Hirji about some of the new rules EPA head Scott Pruitt has in mind for the agency. Of Pruitt’s new directive, Hirji writes:

Effective immediately, scientists who receive EPA funding cannot serve on the agency’s three major advisory groups. Some Republican lawmakers have been pushing for similar changes to the agency’s advisory boards for years.

At a distance this seems good, right? Often where there’s money there’s a conflict of interest. But in reality, this removes the bona fide experts from important conversations about regulation and environmental protection, and lends greater influence to scientists on the payrolls of the very companies the EPA exists to regulate. This is a much greater conflict of interest, one that hews to our current administration’s logic of hiring foxes to guard henhouses — about which we have written. So that’s not really news, but Hirji finds a nice little nugget in this story:

Pruitt used a story from the Book of Joshua to help explain the new policy.

On the journey to the promised land, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said. “This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.”

Now, it’s not unusual in this country to see the Bible invoked pretty questionably to support some pretty questionable policies, but this is an awfully loose metaphor for what will be a major shift in ecological practices. It is, more importantly, a cheap misuse of the Bible to whip up support for a policy that couldn’t have less to do with any religious text. And last, Pruitt here indulges in a type of “with us or against us” logic that is rarely constructive for anything other than justifying atrocities.

Conclusion: Yeah, I think Teich’s “let the experts be experts” logic holds up.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.