Ep. 8: Deconstructing the EPA

Chemical plants on the Houston Ship Channel. Photo: Louis Vest via Flickr

Chemical plants on the Houston Ship Channel. Photo: Louis Vest via Flickr

Trumpism may not be the most coherent of political philosophies. But when White House strategist Steve Bannon recently told a crowd of conservative activists that one of their major goals is “deconstruction of the administrative state,” he brought into focus a theme that may very well come to define a large part of the Trump era. In fact, we’re already starting to see it take shape at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The budget President Trump outlined for Congress last week called for trimming the EPA’s funding by a quarter and cutting staff by several thousand. Where the agency would be cut the deepest and how it might adapt are still anyone’s guess. But Liz Purchia Gannon, who worked for the EPA during the Obama administration, says that such cuts won’t come without real-world consequences.

“Those numbers sound really scary,” Purchia Gannon says. “But when you start to hear the stories of the work the agency does all around the country that often goes unnoticed, that’s when you really start to feel the impact. For example, if you think Flint was just a one-off case, I think we should prepare for a lot more of those in the future. If you get budget cuts on the federal level, and you're seeing systematic cuts on the state level, you’re not going to have the resources and people to ensure our drinking water is safe. The VW scandal never would have fully come about without the staff in the Ann Arbor, Michigan lab, who were doing the testing on these vehicles to ensure they were playing by the rules and not cheating on their air emissions. And the Office of Research and Development does incredibly important work in advising cities and states on how to address issues like toxic algal blooms in Toledo, where drinking water is being impacted. And if you don’t have an agency with an enforcement staff and ability to research and dig into these issues, we’ll see more cases. It’s the work of the agency in these regional offices that's helping states address what’s going on.”

And then, of course, there’s Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who made a name for himself suing the agency he now finds himself leading. And while some were expecting a slash-and-burn approach from the start, the somewhat softer tone he’s been striking lately left us with plenty to talk about on this week’s episode. 

About this week’s guests

Liz Purchia Gannon held several posts at the EPA during the Obama administration, including serving as the EPA’s Press Secretary and the agency’s Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Public Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @LizPurchia

Emily Holden covers energy and climate issues for E&E News and also manages E&E's Power Plan Hub. Follow her on Twitter @emilyhholden.

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