A small number of people at a few federal agencies have vast power over the protection of American air and water.
Under the Trump administration, the people appointed to those positions overwhelmingly used to work in the fossil fuel, chemical and agriculture industries. During their time in government they have been responsible for loosening or undoing nearly 100 environmental protections from pollution and pesticides, as well as weakening preservations of natural resources and efforts to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Of 20 key officials across several agencies, 15 came from careers in the oil, gas, coal, chemical or agriculture industries, while another three hail from state governments that have spent years resisting environmental regulations. At least four have direct ties to organizations led by Charles G. and the late David H. Koch, who have spent millions of dollars to defeat climate change and clean energy measures.
Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that many Republican administrations had brought in people from regulated industries. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring people from the private sector. But we need to make sure they are making decisions in the public interest,” she said.
The Trump administration has said it is focused on ending government overreach, and agency officials said it should be no surprise the administration has tapped people who have dealt first-hand with regulations and share President Trump’s deregulatory goals. Administration press officers added that top agency officials had spent years in public service as well as in the private sector; that all agency officials undergo ethics training; and that those who have worked for industry had signed recusal statements.
“Senior administration officials, an overwhelming majority of whom the Senate has given their advice and consent to, understand that economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.
When Cleveland’s heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, it galvanized the nation and helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, the E.P.A. has tracked pollution and enacted regulations to guide clean air and water laws and reduce levels of toxic substances. The Trump administration has argued the agency’s rules have become too onerous — particularly for the fossil fuel and agriculture industries. [Continue reading…]