2 Dozen EPA Staffers: Trump Is Destroying The EPA From The Inside Out

"Today’s EPA is wracked with internal conflict and industry influence and is struggling to fulfill its mission, according to more than two dozen current and former agency employees." (Vox) (Image credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

In a department loaded with conflicts of interest, career staff members say they have been all but dropped from the decision-making process. According to Vox,

These staffers rarely get face time with [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt and frequently receive top-down orders from political appointees with little room for debate. They must sometimes force their way into conversations about subjects in which they have expertise.

The same staffers lamented that Pruitt is missing out on essential perspectives prior to reaching decisions. A glance at his calendar would indicate this is not accidental:

He was scheduled to meet 154 times during the period with officials from companies such as Exxon Mobil and trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s biggest lobby group.... Those same calendars indicate he saw only three groups representing environmental or public health interests, though an EPA press release says he met with two others.

Some have noted the almost haphazard manner in which Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma's attorney general, is approaching the position:

“These rules [being rolled back] aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There are ways to improve things,” said Gordon Binder, who served as chief of staff for then-EPA Administrator William Reilly under President George H.W. Bush. "But Pruitt’s come in with a fly swatter and is slapping them down instead of laying out the problems with a rule and saying, ‘How can we fix it?’”

Of note is Pruitt's decision not to discontinue use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological damage in children, which saw EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson instruct career staff to deny a petition to ban the chemical.

[EPA spokesperson Liz] Bowman said in an email that career staff were “instrumental” in drafting the denial. The former acting head of the EPA’s chemicals office, a career employee who left the agency last month, told the Times she opposed the decision, even as she followed Jackson’s instructions.

Reporting at the time of the decision affirmed the disconnect between Pruitt and career staffers:

Pruitt didn’t follow agency scientists’ advice, having “promised farming industry executives who wanted to keep using the pesticide that it is ‘a new day and a new future,’” the Times reported.

Staffers also indicated Pruitt seems to go through the motions without taking their input seriously. According to Betsy Southerland, who headed an office in the EPA's water program until August:

“You get the feeling that his mind was made up before we started the briefing process,” Southerland said. “It looked like he was kind of checking the box to meet with us.”

Some staffers are convinced that Pruitt, with the apparent blessing of President Trump, is looking to destroy the EPA from the inside.

“I think it’s the fact that we’re not following regular procedures; we’re not sure of what the legal justification is for some of the things they’re asking us to do. We’re just kind of being told, ‘Do the opposite thing you did 18 months ago.’ That’s hard to swallow.”