This week, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is slated to defend drastic cuts to his agency’s budget, including axing 25 percent of its staff and zeroing out climate change programs.
In response, former EPA employees have formed a new bipartisan group called the Environmental Protection Network to help reporters, activists and policymakers penetrate an administration they accuse of waging an “ideologically driven” battle to cripple core functions of the agency.
On Monday, the group hosted a call to brief reporters on what slashing 31 percent of the EPA’s budget would mean for the agency. The scientists, lawyers, economists and engineers in the network submitted detailed comments to the EPA cautioning officials against scrapping regulations just because industry deems them onerous. The organization, which does not yet have a website, also helped reporters phrase Freedom of Information Act requests to make them as specific as possible.
“There are a variety of ways our experience and our unique institutional memory can help the work we can do,” Ruth Greenspan Bell, who worked for the EPA’s general counsel under President Bill Clinton, said on Monday’s call.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
The Environmental Protection Network plans to help counter legislation passed in March by House Republicans to limit the types of scientific studies the EPA can use when drafting regulations. The bill comes as part of a larger push by the Republican-controlled White House and Congress to give industry more power over the rules that govern it.
But don’t expect the EPN to join the ranks of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We don’t see ourselves as a green group,” said George Wyeth, who served as an EPA staff attorney for 27 years before leaving this January. “So we don’t see ourselves weighing in on narrow, specific issues. But we’ll take those one by one.”
Pruitt, an avowed fossil fuel ally whose views on climate change clash with those of an overwhelming majority of scientists, has emerged as a powerful figure in the White House since President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Amid the waves made by Trump’s announcement, Pruitt rebuked his detractors as “climate exaggerators” and touted the United States’ success in lowering emissions.
Yet he still wants to eliminate programs that helped the country get there.
“Environmental protection is an ongoing process,” Greenspan Bell said. “This sort of suggestion that Pruitt is making, that the mission is accomplished, is unfathomable.”