Thought Piece

[Below, see examples of a federal agency who has become extra-legal, unaccountable to anyone but itself, and a former Administrator who seems to be encouraging open dissent from the 15,000 current EPA government employees under the guise of a sense of moral superiority, while disregarding the democratic process.

  •  “some EPA staffers joined an anti-Pruitt protest in Chicago during their lunch hour, and the New York Times reported that some staff took the rare step of calling their senators to urge a “no” vote.”
  • Nearly 800 former staffers also signed a letter opposing Pruitt.
  • But former Administrator Gina McCarthy told Inside EPA in an exclusive Feb. 17 interview, “I will keep one eye on the 15,000 dedicated public servants at EPA and do what I can to support them and remind everyone why EPA is so important to their health as well as the future of our planet.”

After reviewing the many flaws in the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the US acts written by the EPA with some help from environment groups, the Colorado Toxic spills and the Flint, Michigan water disaster, I am thankful that EPA government employees work for us and not the other way around.  Steve]

Inside EPA – 02/24/2017

Staff Opposition Expected To Hamper Pruitt’s Agenda As EPA Administrator

February 22, 2017

Newly confirmed Administrator Scott Pruitt used his first day at EPA headquarters Feb. 21 to address staff about his plans as agency chief, though his pledges to rollback Obama rules and otherwise curtail the agency will face a skeptical or even hostile reception from employees who doubt his commitment to EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 9,000 EPA employees, said in a statement in response to Pruitt’s Feb. 17 confirmation that the agency’s workforce is smaller now than it was in 1999 despite having more responsibility.

“Starving this vital agency of the resources it needs to carry out its important work threatens the health and safety of all Americans,” it said.

The union also warns that the agency employees “must be able to do their jobs without political interference or fear of retribution,” and that the employees “will fight to maintain” their independence.

The Senate Feb. 17 confirmed Pruitt and he was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Allito later in the day. He is slated to start work at the agency on Feb. 21.

But even before his confirmation, some EPA staffers joined an anti-Pruitt protest in Chicago during their lunch hour, and the New York Times reported that some staff took the rare step of calling their senators to urge a “no” vote.

Nearly 800 former staffers also signed a letter opposing Pruitt.

Referring to the strident internal opposition, former Bush-era EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told the Times, “What it means is that it’s going to be a blood bath when Pruitt gets in there.”

Taken together these signal tough times ahead for Pruitt and his agenda.

One former high-ranking EPA official says the new administrator must prove himself to the workforce, and calls any plans to bring President Donald Trump to the agency — first reported Feb. 14 by Inside EPA — to sign executive orders (EOs) scaling back the scope of its climate and other work “a spectacularly bad idea.”

Several sources inside and outside the administration are now suggesting that one of Trump’s EOs could call for revoking EPA’s landmark finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and the environment — a step that, if successful, would remove the foundation for all of the agency’s GHG rules.

Pruitt at his Jan. 18 Senate confirmation hearing left the door open to such a step but did not suggest it was high on the priority list. “To my knowledge, there is nothing currently pending before the EPA that would require I take any additional actions on the Endangerment finding on Greenhouse Gases and if there were, it would not be wise to prejudge the outcome,” he wrote in response to a series of written questions from senators.

In a statement about Pruitt’s confirmation, EPA sought to tamp down staff concerns about the new administrator’s commitment to the agency’s missions. The agency said Pruitt believes that “promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is among the lifeblood priorities of the government, and that EPA is vital to that mission.”

It added that his “overarching goal is to lead EPA in a way so that our future generations inherit a better and healthier environment, as he works with the thousands of dedicated public servants at EPA who have devoted their careers to helping realize this shared vision, while faithfully administering environmental laws.”

The statement highlights clean water work he accomplished during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general (AG) but does not mention the 14 lawsuits he filed challenging EPA rules, or his expected efforts to dramatically scale back Obama-era agency rules and potentially seek dramatic staff and budget cuts.

The agency called Pruitt a “national leader in the cause to restore the proper balance between the states and federal government, and he established Oklahoma’s first federalism unit to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government.”

But former Administrator Gina McCarthy told Inside EPA in an exclusive Feb. 17 interview, “I will keep one eye on the 15,000 dedicated public servants at EPA and do what I can to support them and remind everyone why EPA is so important to their health as well as the future of our planet.”

Because of staff skepticism, the former high-ranking official says Pruitt would be wise to reach out to employees quickly. “Even in the best of times, the administrator is sort of ‘Home Alone’ for a while . . . meaning there’s only a few people there to help.”

A new EPA chief generally comes in with a few people and installs them in the press office, as chief of staff and as policy adviser. “But it’s not a big crew and so early in the administration you don’t have your political people in the programs or in the general counsel’s office to execute for you, so you need to work through your career staff.”

In the past, career staff have largely been comfortable with new leadership at EPA. “But this is a very different situation,” the source says. Pruitt will need “to find a way to show respect for the expertise and professionalism of the career employees . . . and to convey that he hopes to have a professional and positive working relationship with them, that his views are going to be very different from [former Administrator] Gina McCarthy but he understands the institutional strength of the agency and the positive contribution the agency has made over many, many years. That’s sort of what I would try to do. It may still, to some extent, fall on skeptical ears.”

Pruitt is in a “dicey situation” because he needs the contribution of the career workforce at the agency. “If the entire career workforce is alienated and antagonistic, he’s going to have a very, very hard time, certainly for the next couple of months, before his assistant administrators and regional administrators are in place.”

And while the incoming administrator will “want to assert authority and establish a presence,” it would be a mistake to hold the planned appearance at headquarters with Trump signing EOs that staff is dreading. “He has to know a meeting like that” would be unproductive.

“You meet with the EPA workforce and sign an order to get rid of the Clean Power Plan and the [Clean Water Act] jurisdiction rule and other directives that will be seen as very negative, and you do this in front of” everyone?

“What would the White House people be expecting?”

The source also asks if administration officials will “bring in their own workforce to cheer, and then say the entire EPA is on their side?” similar to what happened when Trump visited CIA headquarters Jan. 21.

EPA staffers, communicating via a Twitter account called RogueEPAStaff, say it is unlikely career staff would be invited to a Trump meeting — because few staff members would accept such an offer — and that a need for increased security for the president may be used to explain why rank-and-file are not invited.

“If they invite staff (unlikely), few would come,” RogueEPAStaff said Feb. 16. In response to a question about why Trump would come to EPA if not to meet the workforce, the account replied, “Photo op for Fox and Breitbart, no?”

But a Trump administration source says the news about the president’s planned visit to EPA has angered White House officials, not because of concern over his plan to sign EOs that would antagonize the agency, but due to security issues. “Their concern was not content but . . . that someone would know his whereabouts,” the source says.

Regardless of whether such a visit ultimately occurs, the source agrees that Pruitt will immediately face challenges at EPA. “He will come in and get to work, and hopefully staff will give him a chance. That would be nice. We’ll see,” the source says.

In addition to a likely hostile staff, the source foresees initial challenges for Pruitt similar to those faced by other Cabinet members who want to bring in their own team but have been rejected by the White House.

Pruitt is expected to bring in a handful of people, including Ryan Jackson, the former chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), as his own chief of staff. He also plans to hire several staff members from the Oklahoma AG office.

But he is also expected to be stymied by the White House in naming other political appointees at the agency, similar to obstacles other Cabinet secretaries have faced. This includes Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who still lacks a deputy. This issue is also said to be the reason why Robert Harward Feb. 16 turned down Trump’s offer to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

The Washington Post reports Feb. 17 that such micro-management resulted in Harward publicly turning down the job because Trump had told Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland that she would retain her post — and Harward did not want her for a deputy. “One key factor in Harward’s decision to turn down the job was that he couldn’t get a guarantee that he could select his own staff,” the paper says.

The administration source says Pruitt can expect the same at EPA, noting that campaign officials who are serving on the beachhead team “will come first, over Scott’s people.” — Dawn Reeves

Inside EPA – 02/24/2017 , Vol. 38, No. 8

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By | 2017-04-03T22:50:22+00:00 February 24th, 2017|Categories: Energy, Thought Piece|Tags: , , |0 Comments

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