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EPA employees plan resistance to Trump agency reform efforts

EPA employees plan resistance to Trump agency reform efforts

Back in November, the Independence Institute previewed what opposition the incoming Trump administration would likely face if campaign pledges to reform and reduce the size and scope of federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Administration, concluding that in many cases, personnel is policy.

Newly leaked reports and sources within the agency hint that the personnel within the EPA, including career staffers and “true believers” not subject to political appointment are hoping to thwart what they perceive as attacks on the agency’s mission and their own jobs.

An unnamed source cited by Politico “expects those who stay to fight actions they deem ill-advised or illegal by quietly providing information of what is happening inside their agencies to advocacy groups and the media.”

These stealthy leaks to sympathetic media will likely be timed to divert resources from the administration’s efforts to cut agency budgets, reduce staffing, and push back on a number of regulations identified in transition team documents revealed earlier today in what Axios called a “sneaky look” at Trumps EPA “agency action plan.”

Axios quoted from the unrealeased full plan and provided other highlights:

EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA. In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] ‘science should not be adjusted to fit policy.’ But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation.

The document goes on to recommend what can be done to “improve the use of science by EPA”:

EPA should not be funding scientific research

If EPA uses scientific data for regulation, that data must be publicly available so independent scientists can review it

EPA’s science advisory process needs to be overhauled to eliminate conflicts of interest and inherent bias

Science standards need to be developed and implemented to ensure that science policy decisions and epidemiological practices are based on sound science

In its analysis, Axios concluded that “[t]here are huge, entrenched bureaucracies at these agencies, and especially at EPA, which is filled with true believers on the environmental movement, climate change, clean water and air,” with “thousands of people [who] will dig in and make it very difficult for the thin layer of political appointees atop these agencies to move quickly to undo their years of work to put these things in place.”

Some will leak documents or internal strategy information, while others will retire early, said the Politico source.

The Daily Caller shared portions of the leaked memo, which outlined hundreds of millions of dollars in EPA budget cuts, and a much different outlook on regulations from the preceding administration:

Indeed, the leaked memo urges Trump to stop “Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations for new (NSPS) and existing (ESPS or the ‘Clean Power’ Plan) coal and natural gas power plants” along with fuel economy mandates for new cars and “Clean Water Section 404: Waters of the U.S. Rule (wetlands).”

Another section titled “Potential opportunities for budget reductions” includes $513 million in cuts to the “states and tribal assistance grants,” $193 million in savings from eliminating agency global warming programs and another $109 million in savings cutting “environment programs and management.”

The memo also urges Trump to “[i]ssue an executive order barring EPA from overruling federal/state regulatory/permit decisions unless in clear violation of established law.”

But even a simple federal hiring freeze put in place by executive order early Monday would likely trigger widespread opposition and institutional backlash, according to Politico, even without further explicit agency budget reductions.

Careerist bureaucrats should be reminded that while they work for an agency under the guidance of each successive administration, they are ultimately public servants who work for American taxpayers and serve at their pleasure.

Furthermore, for the purposes of those who have advocated for a reduction in the EPA’s scope of power (or argued against expanding that power, such as with the Clean Power Plan currently under a United States Supreme Court stay), even a halt on hiring or other agency activities would represent a drastic reversal from the previous administration’s aggressive second term push to bolster environmental regulations. For example, in the fall of 2013, the Obama administration planned 134 new EPA regulations alone. The agency was also criticized in 2015 for appearing a little too chummy without environmental organizations it hoped would carry promotional water for its upcoming ground-level ozone rule.

If even a fraction of these executive orders or other policy and budget reductions come to fruition, the economy will have the opportunity to expand without the relentless and onerous oversight of an agency that has gone way beyond its authorizing statutory mission.

We should note that Axios and other sources have not released the full document which is still under confidentiality restrictions, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, who chaired the Trump EPA transition team. He also disputed citations within the Axios report saying that the document had been revised since the version quoted today was released without authorization.