Trump’s EPA Consolidation Begins

AFGE Local 704 union President Michael Mikulka speaks as EPA workers protest job cuts during rally in Chicago on March 2. AFGE Local 704 union President Michael Mikulka speaks as EPA workers protest job cuts during rally in Chicago on March 2. John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock.com

The Trump administration is beginning to follow through on its promise to shrink the footprint and mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminating an office and looking to rein in its regulatory agenda.  

EPA is shuttering its climate adaptation headquarters office, saying its responsibilities can be carried out at the regional level. The office helped state and local governments respond to the effects of climate change. An EPA official told The Hill the work was “redundant” and should not be handled “from inside Washington.” Four employees will transfer to other offices.

In his fiscal 2018 budget, President Trump proposed cutting more than 30 percent of EPA’s budget and one-fifth of its workforce. The proposal would eliminate more than 50 EPA programs and offices.

Some EPA employees are starting to feel the shift in priorities. One career worker told Government Executive the agency is sending out newsletters with headlines like “Great News” and what follows is news relating to cuts and program cancellations.

“It’s like something in The Onion,” the employee said. “We feel like we’re in occupied territory.”

EPA also issued two memoranda last month—both obtained by Government Executive—aimed at slashing the agency’s regulatory reach. The first looked to implement a Trump executive order to streamline or eliminate existing regulations across government, establishing personnel to lead a task force to identify rules for the chopping block. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt called for the agency to engage with stakeholders and hold public meetings to determine which regulations the agency should eliminate. A second memo required EPA’s regional offices to reshape their processes for issuing most of their regulations so they come through headquarters before being approved.

“I am fully committed to ensuring that EPA’s policymaking process for regulatory and non-regulatory actions—whether routine and non-controversial or more complex and novel—is based on transparency, sound science and adherence to our legal authorities and executive orders,” Pruitt wrote. Reporting regulatory actions would “expand and improve our internal mechanisms for information sharing.”

Democratic lawmakers accused Pruitt of eliminating benefit analysis from the regulatory process and said the agency was allowing political appointees to adjudicate “what is and what is not ‘sound science.’” Pruitt and his deputies do not have a scientific background, Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., wrote in a letter to the administrator.

“Consolidating decision-making in this manner would allow these and other political appointees to overrule the actions of any agency scientist or career public servant,” the senators wrote, “the vast majority of whom have devoted their careers to environmental protection and improving public health.” The senators asked for written assurance of more transparency in the agency’s regulatory review and that political appointees would not interfere with the “routine” work of career employees.

The internal shift follows a push from Congress to restrict the way EPA conducts scientific activity. The House last week passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act to restrict the types of scientific studies the agency’s employees can use to justify their actions. Republican proponents of the bill said the measure would bring more transparency and better research to EPA’s processes, while its opponents said the measure would have unintended consequences and prevent decision making based on sound scientific conclusions.

Charles S. Clark contributed to this report.

Image via John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock.com.

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