Top EPA official resigns over direction of agency under Trump

A top Environmental Protection Agency official resigned Tuesday in protest of the direction the EPA has taken under President Trump.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland ended her 30-year run at the agency with a scathing exit letter in which she claimed that “the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth.” She last worked as the director of science and technology in the Office of Water.

“The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities,” Southerland wrote, directly rejecting many of Trump’s claims.

Southerland said that since EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took over the agency, dozens of regulations designed to protect the environment had been repealed, and Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the agency would devastate its ability to enforce existing protections and create new ones.

She took aim in particular at Trump's demand that two federal regulations be struck from the books for every new one added.

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“Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?” she wrote. “Faced with such painful choices, the best possible outcome for the American people would be regulatory paralysis where no new rules are released so that existing protections remain in place.”

She added that in the past the EPA had been a “guiding light to make the ‘right thing’ happen for the greater good,” but that the Trump administration has hurt the agency’s ability to protect the planet.

“It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just,” Southerland wrote.

An EPA spokesman questioned the timing of Southerland stepping down.

"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,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told E&E News in an email.