Senior Officials Resign from EPA to Protest Scott Pruitt
August 5, 2017
Sam Knight / Nation of Change & Kristin Brown / League of Conservation Voters
An inside look at the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda was proffered in the resignation of a 30-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency. Elizabeth Southerland announced this week that she was leaving her post at the agency, where she served as a senior executive with both the Water and Superfund programs. On her way out, she sent a lengthy farewell message to her colleagues criticizing Pruitt's anti-regulatory, polluter-friendly policies.
Departing EPA Official Warns of
More Crises Like Flint under Current Leadership
Sam Knight / Nation of Change
"Only a few months on the job, Scott Pruitt has become the leading candidate for worst boss in the world."
(August 3, 2017) -- An inside look at the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda was proffered in the resignation of a 30-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Elizabeth Southerland announced this week that she was leaving her post at the agency, where she served as a senior executive with both the Water and Superfund programs. On her way out, she sent a lengthy farewell message to her colleagues, which was posted by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). [See message below – EAW]
PEER described Southerland as "an eyewitness to the wreckage wreaked by Administrator Scott Pruitt and his cadre of political appointees."
In her letter, the experienced regulator detailed an agency in the midst of a reactionary transformation under Pruitt's leadership.
"The new EPA Administrator already has repeals of 30 rules under consideration," Southerland wrote. She noted that one of those rules, which requires coal plants to more properly dispose of toxic waste, cost millions of dollars to research and analyze, and was subjected to months of public commentary and review.
Southerland went on to say that a guiding force for Pruitt is undoing the "polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations." Such a scenario could leave it up to the states to determine how much responsibility industries have for the messes they make.
The now-former official also criticized deep budget cuts facing the agency. The White House earlier this year proposed a 30-percent reduction in funding for the EPA next year.
"Environmental catastrophes have often occurred when there was a decision to roll the dice and achieve a short term gain at the risk of disastrous long term costs," Southerland told her colleagues. She referenced the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the water contamination crisis that has gripped Flint, Mich. Both were exacerbated by short-term cost-savings measures.
"Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth," Southerland concluded.
Pruitt's anti-climate agenda was clear even before he was tapped by President Trump to lead the EPA. As the former Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt was party to several lawsuits against the Obama administration's EPA, as part of efforts to roll back new environmental regulation.
In May, Senate Democrats accused Pruitt of violating his own ethics agreement by presiding over some of that very same anti-EPA litigation that he helped file, as a plaintiff.
"Under your tenure as Administrator, the EPA has already asked the courts five times to delay consideration of a lawsuit," the Democratic Senators said, in a letter to Pruitt. "In at least four of the lawsuits, you had represented the state of Oklahoma . . . seeking to vacate the very rules in question."
On Monday, Pruitt's spokesperson pushed back against Southerland's claims and her motivation to quit. "It's hard to believe that Elizabeth Southerland is retiring because of a budget proposal and not because she's eligible for her government pension," Jahan Wilcox claimed to E&E News.
PEER's New England Kyla Bennett responded in a statement, saying that after "only a few months on the job, Scott Pruitt has become the leading candidate for worst boss in the world."
A Farewell Statement
Elizabeth Southerland / EPA Senior Executive
I wish I could do it all over again! I have had the most wonderful 40 years working in environmental protection. Over those years, I have worked for a private consulting firm, local government, state government and finally EPA’s Water and Superfund programs.
In every one of those organizations, I had the privilege of working with dedicated professionals from many different fields. These are people who first spent years studying science, engineering, economics, and statistics and then spent years on the job assessing the public health and ecological impacts of pollution, identifying the causes of those impacts, and devising fixes.
During my 40 years working on environmental protection, our country has made enormous strides preventing and remediating pollution, led by those highly trained professionals who work alongside local communities, states, companies and the general public.
It’s hard to believe, but as recently as 30 years ago, Nonpoint Sources of Pollution were considered to be a hoax and fake news in many states. It has only been about 30 years since Congress enacted the Superfund laws that require industries to take responsibility for cleaning up toxic pollution in the environment. Finally, it has only been about 20 years since drinking water utilities began installing new treatment processes to manage carcinogenic disinfection byproducts and microbial contaminants like Cryptosporidium.
So, looking back over my 40-year career in environmental protection, what jumps out is that sooner or later, requirements and practices for the “right thing” for the environment take hold and the claims of “hoax” and “fake news” fall by the wayside. And EPA has been the guiding light to make the “right thing” happen for the greater good, including public health and safety and, without being melodramatic, for our country’s fair share of protection for the planet.
In his first address to EPA staff, the new Administrator admonished us for acting outside legal mandates and running roughshod over states’ rights. The Administrator subsequently assured the states that he will initiate a cooperative federalism approach in which the power to govern is finally shared between EPA and the states.
In fact, EPA has always followed a cooperative federalism approach since most environmental programs are delegated to states and tribes who carry out the majority of monitoring, permitting, inspections, and enforcement actions.
All the federal environmental statutes set national standards for protection of public health and the environment because Congress recognized that some states might be willing, for economic or other reasons, to tolerate much less protection than their neighboring states.
To ensure that all states can provide clean air and water not only to their own residents but to the residents of downwind/downstream states, EPA provides funding to states and tribes to support their implementation of the federal statutes. Under the new federalism, however, the President’s FY18 budget proposes cuts to state and tribal funding as draconian as the cuts to EPA, while at the same time reassigning a number of EPA responsibilities to the states and tribes.
If they want to maintain their current level of monitoring, permitting, inspections, and enforcement, states will have to increase taxes and establish new user fees. Even if they are able to do this over time, the proposed FY18 budget cuts to state, tribal and federal environmental programs would result in thousands of jobs lost in the short term, in EPA, state and tribal governments, and the private environmental consulting firms which support those governmental agencies.
In addition to defunding implementation of existing environmental regulations at the local, state and federal level, the President goes further by requiring that any new regulation be accompanied by repeal of two existing regulations of equal or greater cost. To implement this “regulation trading” program, EPA will have to choose which Congressional Law to ignore, and face litigation through costly citizen suits.
This poses a real Sophie’s choice for public health agencies like EPA. Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?
Faced with such painful choices, the best possible outcome for the American people would be regulatory paralysis where no new rules are released so that existing protections remain in place.
Unfortunately, even existing protections will not remain in place since the administration has also launched a repeal, replace, modify initiative which is not tied to issuing new rules. Any environmental protection rule promulgated at any time in the past may be repealed by this administration, as well as any science or technical document ever published by EPA.
The new EPA Administrator already has repeals of 30 rules under consideration, one of which is the steam electric rule promulgated in 2015 after EPA spent years collecting data on power plants, millions of dollars conducting engineering and economic analyses of those data, and months responding to extensive public comment.
The final rule required for the first time that the highly toxic wastes of coal-fired electric plants be treated rather than poured untreated into large holding ponds where the toxic chemicals seep into ground water and overflow into surface water, contaminating public water supplies and private wells and poisoning fish and wildlife.
The objective of the 2015 rule is to prevent repeats of the many environmental catastrophes caused by the failure of power company coal ash ponds, the most recent being the 70-mile-long Duke Energy spill into the Dan River of North Carolina.
The major budget cuts to EPA, state and tribal environmental programs and the potential repeal of many existing regulations and science documents is not a cooperative federalism approach. It is an industry deregulation approach based on abandonment of the polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations.
When the federal government abandons the polluter pays principle, it will be up to the states, tribes and local government to decide how much of the polluters bills they will ask their residents to take on. The best case for our children and grandchildren is that they will pay the polluters bills through increased state taxes, new user fees, and higher water and sewer bills.
The worst case is that they will have to live with increased public health and safety risks and a degraded environment. Environmental catastrophes have often occurred when there was a decision to roll the dice and achieve a short=term gain at the risk of disastrous long-term costs
Hurricane Katrina where small savings in flood protection levees resulted in one of the most catastrophic flooding and environmental disasters in U.S. history and Flint, Michigan where minimal costs for corrosion control or an alternative water supply were dwarfed by the subsequent lead contamination of children.
Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth. The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.
It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just.
Thanks to all of you for your hard work and professionalism. It has been a joy to work with you, and I wish you all the best.
ACTION ALERT: Trump's EPA Chief Scott Pruitt
Wants to Dump Corporate Wastes in the Public Waterways
Kristin Brown / League of Conservation Voters
Donald Trump and his EPA chief Scott Pruitt are trying to give Big Polluters a free pass to dump their waste into streams and wetlands that provide drinking water for one in three people. RIDICULOUS.
Our sources tell us this is Trump and Pruitt's first step in rolling back the Clean Water Act. They're trying to slide this decision under the radar -- and with all the craziness happening in D.C. right now, they might just get away with it. That's where you come in.
We need to unite against this terrible polluter handout and LOUDLY tell Trump and Pruitt: all people deserve clean drinking water! We're trying to gather 50,000 petitions by the close of the comment period. Join today!
Clean water is essential to human health, vital to healthy communities, and necessary for a robust economy. We rely on streams, lakes, and wetlands for drinking water, as a place to catch a break off the summer heat, and as a home to countless wildlife.
By repealing the Clean Water Rule, Trump has once again put polluter profits over the health of our communities, businesses, and environment. This is an assault on basic protections for clean water and a massive waste of time and taxpayer money that puts millions at risk.
Here's the good news: Trump and Pruitt can't just repeal this rule on a whim -- they have to go through a public process where people like you and me can make our voices heard. If we all speak out together -- if we overwhelm the EPA, the halls of Congress, our streets and our news stations -- we can make a difference. It has to start today.
ACTION: Polluting Pruitt is thrilled to give his cronies more chances to endanger our drinking water. Make your voice heard! Send a message to Scott Pruitt and tell him to keep his hands off our water.
Petition to Pruitt & Trump:
Repealing the Clean Water Rule will put the drinking water of 117 million people at risk -- that's one in three of us! I strongly urge you to reconsider your position and drop the repeal of the Clean Water Rule.
Kristin Brown is the Director of Digital Strategy for the League of Conservation Voters.
A POEM FOR SCOTT PRUITT
No surprise here, we all knew it
EPA-pick Scotty Pruitt
is bad news, bears, so let's review it:
Climate change? "There's nothing to it."
The Clean Air Act? "We must undo it."
Clean Water law? "We can't renew it."
Lead in water? "Learn to chew it."
On wilderness? "I'll drive right through it."
Oil and coal? "I'll get right to it."
Polar bears? "I won't rescue it."
Atomic waste? "I don't intuit."
Stewardship? "I shall eschew it."
Sierra Club? "I plan to sue it."
Your legacy? "I think I blew it."
Our planet's future? "Don't care! Screw it!"
-- Gar Smith