Trump Appointee Endangering Americans by Intentionally Running Agency into the Ground.

(The author, Craig Benedict, is a retired federal prosecutor who specialized in environmental crimes. He served as the Agency’s first criminal enforcement counsel. He has received many EPA and Justice Department awards during Republican and Democratic administrations, including for outstanding career service.)

With the election of President Trump, many people feel we have entered into a turbulent period unmatched in decades. Trump promised political appointees of unparalleled skill: “I know all the best people.” Yet many appointees have proven not even minimally equal to the task, departing his Administration at rates not faced by other Presidents in modern history.  A steady stream of rumors abound naming others who may be ready to leave. Still, others preside over Departments that are embroiled in turmoil, struggling to meet the goals fundamental to their mission. 


     Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt must surely be at the top of the list of appointees who are failing at their jobs. The mission of the EPA, “To Protect Human Health and the Environment,” is ensconced in the statement of purpose on its website and within numerous statutes the Agency enforces. Unlike others, Pruitt’s failure is not by accident but rather is by design. He is putting human health and the environment at risk because, remarkably, that is his goal. Such as harsh assessment requires support, but a simple comparison of the Agency’s mission statement with Pruitt’s actions to date does the trick. Here is a summary of the EPA’s 7-point list (from its official website) that spells out what it must do, and how it will do it: 


Protect all Americans from significant health and environmental risk; 2. Use the best available scientific information; 3. Enforce EPA laws fairly and effectively; 4. Consider environmental laws when implementing policies concerning natural resources, health, economic growth, energy, transportation agriculture, industry and international trade; 5. Give all parts of society access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks; 6. Environmental policies contribute to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; 7. Play a leadership role with other nations to protect the global environment.  


     Notwithstanding this eminently reasonable set of criteria, Administrator Pruitt is swiftly taking action designed to destroy much of what the agency has worked for decades to establish (under both Republican and Democratic administrations). Since he took office, Pruitt has: (1) hired lobbyists and other individuals from industries openly hostile to the EPA’s work; (2) met nearly every day with conservative activists and industry representatives, inviting input on initiatives to undo environmental protections, while refusing similar requests to meet with environmental groups; (3) contrary to its mission statement, has not used “the best available scientific information,” but rather has sought scientific opinions that have been broadly rejected as inaccurate and scientifically indefensible (more about this below); and (4) followed the highly questionable practice of excluding EPA staff who possess specific expertise from meetings where decisions are made about future Agency action. In short, he is seeking to carry out a massive rollback of environmental protections, is doing so in secret, and he does not care if his decisions run counter to well-established science. 


     On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article entitled“48 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump.” The article detailed environmental and human health matters Pruitt either had eliminated or is actively seeking to eliminate. The subjects of his efforts run the gamut from protections of water bodies (coal ash discharges permitted into rivers and streams even if a source of drinking water); emissions of toxic pollutants into the air; eliminating restrictions on pesticides determined by agency scientists to be impermissibly dangerous; eliminating increases to motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards; and permitting fracking on public lands (including without methane emission monitoring). Most notably, Pruitt’s efforts also involve matters of extraordinary consequence to humanity including the total elimination of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This is the plan through which the United States sought to come to grips with global warming within our country and to implement our compliance with the Paris Climate Change Accords. Instead, Pruitt denies climate change exists, and is stacking the Agency with individuals from industries who have a financial interest in continuing to pollute. He does so notwithstanding extraordinary scientific evidence that he is wrong. Who says so? The International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC (the Noble Prize-winning United Nations organization of comprised of renown climatologists, broadly considered worldwide to be the definitive expert body on climate change) and the American Academies of Science (the most respected scientific body in the United States, established by President Lincoln in 1863) conclude that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly establishes that anthropogenic climate change is real, and poses a substantial danger to human health and the environment. Pruitt’s effort to block the United States’ response to climate change endangers the entire human species.


     Recently, news articles have documented Administrator Pruitt’s extensive travels at taxpayer expense to his home in Oklahoma, ostensively to meet with industry groups away from the EPA, and his installation, again at taxpayer expense, of a $25,000 soundproof booth in his office, purportedly so he can make phone calls without being overheard. It is worth noting that while Pruitt occupies an important job, the EPA does not handle top-secret documents or otherwise engage in acts necessary to defend our nation from its enemies. Informed of Pruitt’s lavish “cone of silence,” a former high-ranking EPA official responded that when he had wished to make a call in private without being overheard, he simply closed his door. Despite the obligation (see mission goal 5 above) to provide information so all members of our American society may participate in actions to manage risks to human health and the environment, Administrator Pruitt is manifestly determined to do just the opposite. In response, all Americans have reasons to recast the public service announcement of the 1960s: It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your EPA Administrator Is? If you do not know where he is, or what he is doing, his record provides a clear basis to conclude that he is up to no good.