According to two former Administrators, current federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has set the agency back by anything from several years to as much as three decades due to “regulatory rollbacks, mass attrition and budget cuts.”
That sounds ominous. It isn’t.
At present EPA is operating under FY2017 funding levels. While projected FY2018 funding cuts will be substantial, they have not yet taken place.
The FY2018 budget’s 28% reduction for the Superfund program and $427 million cut to geographic programs such as the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, and Chesapeake Bay are reasons for concern. But EPA is known for its vast labyrinth of complex and convoluted regulations. Like any federal agency, it has bloat and inefficiency, problems endemic to large bureaucracies. So some rollback of regulations is welcome.
Critics point to rapid loss of agency employees who, they say, are leaving because they disagree with Pruitt’s priorities. But the attrition amounts to only 4.7% of Agency full-time employees (FTE). That compares to 5% (2012 to 2013) and 4.2% (2013 to 2014) under President Obama. In fact, under Obama the EPA lost 2,118 (12.1%) FTE between 2011 and 2016.
Of 700 positions lost under Pruitt, 200 were scientists, and another 96 were environmental protection specialists (EPS). The latter included many without relevant (e.g., chemistry, biology, toxicology or geology) science backgrounds. EPA has already replaced some scientists, and it is an aging workforce. Some at or near retirement age have left, many via buy-outs under Obama. Indeed, each year many employees, reaching age and length-in-service criteria, elect to leave regardless of prevailing political winds.
The biggest of those winds has to do with climate change.
Pruitt has taken on the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature environmental legislation, meant to fight global warming. He won’t have an easy fight, since the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that EPA can regulate CO2 as a pollutant—a ruling that led to EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding. Furthermore, rule-making at EPA often proceeds along geologic timeframes. Changes put into motion won’t take effect tomorrow.
Though not much among its rank and file, among its highest-level officials EPA is undergoing a welcome ideological shift.
A friend of mine, a veteran EPA scientist and enforcement officer with more than two decades in the Agency, told me that even before Obama came into office, but accelerating afterward, he had watched it shifting “further Left ideologically” and becoming dominated by what he called “an elitist mindset.” Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by local superiors, he said, “This mindset is concomitant with the widening enforcement powers of the EPA under President Obama.”
One need look no further than the Agency’s last two Budget in Brief reports to see this changing paradigm. For example, under the Obama Administration, EPA stated, “The issue of highest importance facing the agency over the next few years will continue to be greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation and climate change adaptation,” and, “The Clean Power Plan is the top priority for the EPA and the central element of the U.S. domestic climate mitigation agenda.”
Under Pruitt the Agency says, “Environmental stewardship while growing our economy is essential to the American way of life and key to economic success and competitiveness. Regulation and policy will incorporate robust input from the public through formal and informal mechanisms to seek full understanding of the impacts of proposed policy on public health, the environment, the economy, jobs, families, and our communities.”
The Trump Administration’s frontal assault on the preoccupation with fighting anthropogenic global warming (AGW) by reducing greenhouse gas (read, CO2) emissions has made the Left apoplectic and aggressively hostile to both Pruitt and the president.
But Pruitt says he’s committed to clean air, clean water, and an overall healthy environment. He says EPA, under his leadership, will continue working to increase the number of areas that meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards for criteria pollutants and to protect lakes, rivers, and drinking water. “We can and we will achieve clean air and clean water and … strong economic growth and job creation at the same time,” Pruitt says.
He promises to balance environmental enforcement with a pragmatic and realistic approach to renewable sources of energy on a wide-scale application. This is not tantamount to caving in to polluters, as some antagonists claim. Until unintermittent, dispatchable renewable energy is available at affordable prices on a massive scale, we will need to rely on fossil fuels.
After all, of the nation’s roughly 4100 TWh of electricity generation, natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydro account for 91%—wind and solar only 7%, and that’s primarily in the Great Plains, southern California, North Carolina, and Vermont.
“Although few in number,” my internal source tells me, “there are professionals within the Agency who are glad President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate treaty—a commitment that would have cost the American people $20 to $30 trillion to prevent a fraction of a degree Centigrade of global warming by the turn of the century. Many scientists, including me, believe this is not environmental stewardship but economic negligence that will harm future generations.”
EPA has professionals with degrees in the hard sciences with varying levels of proficiency. By and large, they’re dedicated individuals who buy into the Agency’s mission statement.
Yet, not only are dissenting scientific viewpoints respecting AGW and climate policy frowned upon, but also “anyone who dares publicly state such views is practically anathematized by colleagues,” my source said. “That is bad for science, bad for the EPA, and bad for America. Under this Administration, scientific dialogue around AGW should take place. Administrator Pruitt seems committed to that.”