EPA staff protest new chief pick as congressman attempts to shut it down

7 Feb 2017

EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. Image: mj007/Shutterstock

The turmoil at the US Environmental Protection Agency continues as Republican congressman Matt Gaetz seeks to shut the whole agency down, and staff protest choice of potential new chief.

Those within the global scientific community have been watching the US with worry due to the nation’s apparent turnaround on its climate change stance, particularly within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

With claims of a self-imposed gag order being made public and its staff revolting through the medium of Twitter, the call for a March for Science on the streets of Washington, DC was met with near-universal praise.

‘Oppressive jurisdiction of the EPA’

The EPA’s very existence is now under threat, as a Republican congressman from Florida has introduced legislation into the US government calling for the agency’s abolishment.

Text for the legislation known as HR 861 has not been drafted yet, but its title, ‘To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency’, is pretty self-explanatory.

Matt Gaetz said that if his legislation passes, all of its activities would fall under different state entities in order to prevent people from experiencing the “oppressive jurisdiction of the EPA”.

Later, in an email to fellow Republicans seen by the The Huffington Post, Gaetz went on to say that the EPA was an “extraordinary offender” of “rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats”.

If it passes, the EPA would cease organisational operations at the close of 2018.

While the legislation is only just making its way to congress for approval, there are more immediate concerns for the EPA regarding its potential new chief nominated by the Trump administration.

According to The Washington Post, hundreds of employees – both current and former – have protested against the US senate to prevent Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt from running the agency.

Two-thirds of EPA jobs under threat

Backed by Republicans and dozens of conservative advocacy groups, Pruitt is praised for apparently demonstrating “his commitment to upholding the Constitution” and a belief that he will ensure the EPA “works for American families and consumers”.

The group protesting his potential appointment has been vocally led by Bruce Buckheit, who worked in the EPA’s enforcement division for more than 30 years, and was a signatory of a letter calling for senators to block Pruitt.

“Every EPA administrator has a fundamental obligation to act in the public’s interest based on current law and the best available science,” the group wrote in its letter.

“Mr Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date, and whether he agrees with the long-standing tenets of US environmental law.”

The group takes issue with Pruitt’s apparent close ties to the fossil fuel industry, saying there is no evidence he has taken the initiative “to protect and advance public health and environmental protection in his state”.

Among existing EPA staff, the biggest fear is that since the beginning of the Trump administration, key officials have suggested cutting its workforce by two-thirds from 15,000 to 5,000.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic