An inside look at the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda was proffered in the resignation of a 30-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Elizabeth Southerland announced this week that she was leaving her post at the agency, where she served as a senior executive with both the Water and Superfund programs. On her way out, she sent a lengthy farewell message to her colleagues, which was posted by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
PEER described Southerland as “an eyewitness to the wreckage wreaked by Administrator Scott Pruitt and his cadre of political appointees.”
In her letter, the experienced regulator detailed an agency in the midst of a reactionary transformation under Pruitt’s leadership.
“The new EPA Administrator already has repeals of 30 rules under consideration,” Southerland wrote. She noted that one of those rules, which requires coal plants to more properly dispose of toxic waste, cost millions of dollars to research and analyze, and was subjected to months of public commentary and review.
Southerland went on to say that a guiding force for Pruitt is undoing the “polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations.” Such a scenario could leave it up to the states to determine how much responsibility industries have for the messes they make.
The now-former official also criticized deep budget cuts facing the agency. The White House earlier this year proposed a 30-percent reduction in funding for the EPA next year.
“Environmental catastrophes have often occurred when there was a decision to roll the dice and achieve a short term gain at the risk of disastrous long term costs,” Southerland told her colleagues. She referenced the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the water contamination crisis that has gripped Flint, Mich. Both were exacerbated by short-term cost-savings measures.
“Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth,” Southerland concluded.
Pruitt’s anti-climate agenda was clear even before he was tapped by President Trump to lead the EPA. As the former Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt was party to several lawsuits against the Obama administration’s EPA, as part of efforts to roll back new environmental regulation.
In May, Senate Democrats accused Pruitt of violating his own ethics agreement by presiding over some of that very same anti-EPA litigation that he helped file, as a plaintiff.
“Under your tenure as Administrator, the EPA has already asked the courts five times to delay consideration of a lawsuit,” the Democratic Senators said, in a letter to Pruitt. “In at least four of the lawsuits, you had represented the state of Oklahoma…seeking to vacate the very rules in question.”
On Monday, Pruitt’s spokesperson pushed back against Southerland’s claims and her motivation to quit. “It’s hard to believe that Elizabeth Southerland is retiring because of a budget proposal and not because she’s eligible for her government pension,” Jahan Wilcox claimed to E&E News.
PEER’s New England Kyla Bennett responded in a statement, saying that after “only a few months on the job, Scott Pruitt has become the leading candidate for worst boss in the world.”