Separately, on Tuesday, in an unusual move, the E.P.A. placed the head of its Office of Children’s Health, Dr. Ruth Etzel, on administrative leave, while declining to give a reason for the move. Agency officials told Dr. Etzel, a respected pediatric epidemiologist, that the move was not disciplinary. As the head of an office that regularly pushed to tighten regulations on pollution, which can affect children more powerfully than adults, Dr. Etzel had clashed multiple times with Trump administration appointees who sought to loosen pollution rules.
Michael Mikulka, who heads a union representing about 900 E.P.A. employees, said, “Clearly, this is an attempt to silence voices whether it’s in the agency’s Office of Children’s Health or the Office of the Science Advisor to kill career civil servants’ input and scientific perspectives on rule-making.”
The changes at the two offices, which both report directly to the head of the E.P.A., come as the agency’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is overseeing a reorganization of the agency.
After dissolving the office of the scientific adviser, Mr. Wheeler plans to merge the position into an office that reports to the E.P.A.’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science, a demotion that would put at least two more managerial layers between the E.P.A.’s chief scientist and its top decision maker.
“It’s certainly a pretty big demotion, a pretty big burying of this office,” said Michael Halpern, the deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. “Everything from research on chemicals and health, to peer-review testing to data analysis would inevitably suffer,” he said.