There is no doubt that Scott Pruitt is shaking things up at the EPA. But are his changes being fairly characterized and reported?
Not surprisingly the narrative has been driven by the liberal media, aided by disgruntled EPA officials who, having reached retirement age, are leaving the agency. Elizabeth Southerland, until recently the director of science and technology in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, pronounced it her “civic duty” to warn that “our children and grandchildren” face “increased public health and safety risks and a degraded environment” due to President Trump’s “draconian” budget cuts, and his “industry deregulation.” Similarly, Michael Cox, who quit the EPA in April, complained in a letter to Pruitt about “indefensible budget cuts” and efforts to “dismantle EPA and its staff as quickly as possible.”
The editors of the Wall Street Journal take issue with Southerland and Cox. For example, Southerland (who made $249,000 last year in combined salary and bonus) ripped Pruitt’s call to rebalance power between the feds and states. She claimed that the EPA “has always followed a cooperative federalism approach.” Pruitt, who dealt regularly with the EPA as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, must have had a good laugh over that one.
The editors point out that during the combined presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the EPA imposed five federal air-quality implementation plans on states. Barack Obama’s EPA imposed 56. Moreover, the Obama EPA stripped states of their statutory development authority, whether with its preemptive veto of Alaska’s Pebble Mine, or its Waters of the United States rule that gave the feds de facto sway over tens of millions of acres of private land.
And to what effect? The editors remind us that the largest clean-water disaster in recent years resulted from the EPA’s 2015 decision to punch a hole in the Gold King Mine in Colorado, turning the Animas River yellow with waste water and heavy metals. The agency also shares blame for the Flint, Michigan, lead crisis, having failed to alert the public. In addition, according to the editors, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a dismal record recovering endangered species, while the Forest Service’s logging restrictions have left millions of acres of dead, bug-infested trees as tinder for catastrophic wildfires.
The Trump administration has proposed a 30 percent cut in funding for the EPA. It won’t happen. What will happen is a shift in priorities — as the editors put it, a refocus on core jobs like Superfund cleanups, and less interference with the states.
The likely result? An EPA that is more efficient and effective.
Note: This post has been edited to reflect that the editorial cited is from the Wall Street journal.