The EPA is preparing for massive cuts under President Trump.

Photo Courtesy of Texas GOP Vote

The Trump Administration’s Efforts to Cripple the EPA

By Cory Willingham      December 10, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency is an administrative body which will be necessary for as long as pollutants exist. Unfortunately, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 would include a 2.6 billion dollar cut to the EPA’s discretionary spending budget which amounts to a 31.4% cut of the agency’s overall funding. In anticipation of this budget cut, the agency is taking steps to reduce its overall spending. Massive staff cuts have begun in an attempt to nip the problem in the bud.

There are 15,000 total staff positions in the EPA. Bill Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, claims that they would have to cut their total workforce by 20%, meaning that 3,000 employees will lose their jobs. All of these employees will not have to be fired; fortuitously, many of the EPA’s employees are nearing retirement age. 57% of its employees are above the age of 50, and they can be offered early retirement packages. However, this unexpected boon comes with a downside. These elderly employees are not new, and many have been with the agency for years; over 40% of current employees have been there for 20 years or more. If they go, it will be incredibly difficult to replace them with equally qualified workers.

First, the administration itself is encouraging employees to leave voluntarily. Acting deputy administrator Mike Flynn issued a memo several months ago which said: “The authority encourages voluntary separations… with minimal disruption to the workforce.” Administrative urging is not the only incentive to leave—morale is low, and people seem willing to go of their own accord. Mike Mikulka, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents EPA workers in Chicago, reports that EPA employees are getting “fed up” with the agency’s lack of efficacy, and indeed with EPA head Scott Pruitt’s apparent desire to dismantle the agency from the inside. Pruitt represents the Trump administration’s efforts to follow up on Trump’s promises to eliminate the EPA “in almost every form.” Employees of the agency, according to Mikulka, are aware of this internal sabotage, and are becoming tired of it. His statement ends on a pessimistic note: “You can only be beat around the head and the shoulders for so long before you say enough is enough.” In early September, a group of employees said just that-- 400 employees throughout the agency either accepted buyouts or quit.

By the end of 2017, the EPA plans to offer up to 1,227 buyouts of employee contracts—meaning up to 1,227 employees can expect a retirement package in exchange for early termination. While that does not guarantee that all of those buyouts will be accepted, many likely will. Liz Bowman, the EPA’s official spokesperson, pointed out that this is not a novel concept. In 2014, the Obama administration offered buyouts as well, although they only paid 456 employees to leave. That said, the Obama administration also supported various environmental causes, with special focuses on clean water and carbon emission caps. The Trump administration, on the other hand, seems to view these staff cuts as one more step in what has been described by Kyle Bennett, a ten-year EPA employee, as their “wholesale war on the environment.” The words of Michael Cox, a twenty-five-year EPA employee who resigned earlier this year, are more pressing with every passing day: The Trump administration is “working to dismantle EPA and its staff as quickly as possible.”

These proposed cuts are particularly concerning because of the context in which they exist. Unfortunately, the current administration really does seem to be making a concentrated effort to ignore environmental issues. It is, of course, not the administration’s fault that we faced a particularly devastating hurricane season this year. However, it is up to them to provide aid for hurricane victims and help us become better protected against them, and diminishing the EPA is detrimental to both of those goals. Further, the administration supports the building of oil pipelines, one of which—the controversial Keystone Pipeline—spilled 210,000 gallons of oil into South Dakotan fields on November 16th. It also allowed mining wastes to be dumped into streams, something the Obama administration prevented. It stopped government-funded research into oil and natural gas emissions. It has indicated its desire to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. Finally, of course, it appointed Scott Pruitt, a man with a history of suing the EPA for enforcing regulations, as its EPA chief. In short, the Trump administration is creating a situation in which the EPA is more necessary than ever, while simultaneously gutting the agency’s funding and manpower.



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