For nearly the past four years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been led by former oil and gas industry lobbyists who have prioritized rolling back environmental regulations instead of enforcing them. With the presidential election looming, six former heads of the EPA are leading a call to reset the agency and return it to its original mission instead of, you know, serving the interests of major polluters.
William Reilly, Lee Thomas, Carol Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa Jackson, and Gina McCarthy, all former Administrators of the EPA, joined more than 500 former EPA senior managers and employees as part of the Environmental Protection Network to make recommendations on how the agency can get back on track. The collection of agency veterans is bipartisan and includes administrators and employees who served under both Democratic and Republican leadership, suggesting that there is something significantly different in how the agency has operated under Trump.
The Environmental Protection Network put forth hundreds of pages of documentation that seek to establish "specific and actionable steps that EPA can take to reset the course of the agency to address the most significant and pervasive threats to public health and our environment." The plans range from better incorporating environmental justice into the EPA's daily work to reducing emissions from vehicles. They even get into the nitty-gritty, suggesting changes to how the EPA performs economic analyses and reevaluating the agency's relationships with states, cities, and tribal lands. Some of the plans appear to be in direct response to Trump-era policies. A plan to restore science as the backbone of decision making at the agency, for instance, would directly address the Trump administration's attempt to limit the use of scientific research when making decisions about public health.
The plans are presented as a tool for any administration that may emerge from the upcoming presidential election, and rarely do the documents mention Trump specifically. But it seems clear that changes made under the Trump administration do not sit well with the former EPA heads, who expressed in a statement that they are “concerned about the current state of affairs at EPA.”
It's worth noting that Scott Pruitt, the 14th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Trump's initial pick to run the agency, did not sign on to the Environmental Protection Network's reset plan, making him one of the few living administrators to do so. Pruitt, who was eventually ousted from his post after it was revealed that he used his position to help secure jobs and opportunities for his family members, very much set the tone for how the EPA would operate under Trump. He, like Trump, denies the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity, and worked to scrub government websites of any mention of the topic.
Pruitt also started work on rolling back many environmental protections, work that has continued under current EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has pushed to loosen restrictions on power plants, allowing more pollution, particularly of harmful pollutants like mercury and methane. In total, the EPA under Trump has partially or completely rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations over the course of the last three-plus years.
Should Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office in January 2021, or should Trump suddenly grow a conscious when it comes to the environment, there will be a lot of work to be done to restore the EPA and return it to its original mission of public health and safety. Luckily, if the Environmental Protection Network is any indication, there are plenty of people willing to do that work.