gutted (v) - to destroy the interior of; disembowel
gutted (adj) - bitterly disappointed
“Gutted” can mean to remove the internal parts. It can also mean “bitterly disappointed.” The Trump administration has left employees at the Environmental Protection Agency gutted in both ways: eliminating as many workers as it can, and bitterly disappointing those who remain by silencing our voices and curbing our ability to protect public health and the environment. The two go hand in hand.
President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE has proposed cutting EPA’s budget by 31 percent next year, which would decimate our staff and cripple our environmental enforcement efforts. Already, he has forced out some of EPA’s most valued engineers and scientists and driven out experts from scientific boards and panels.
Even as new threats emerge to our nation’s drinking water supply, and a new climate assessment paints a dire picture of the rest of this century, the Trump administration has doubled down on attacking EPA. By replacing expert scientists with political hacks and robbing EPA of the scientific tools and authorities to act, the most dire environmental threats facing our nation and the world will go unaddressed for years to come, long after President Trump has left office.
One new threat comes from a group of chemicals known as PFAS, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. Linked to a variety of health problems — cancer, immune deficiencies, and thyroid and liver problems — they can be found in the bodies of 99 percent of Americans. For decades, PFAS have been widely used on nonstick pans, carpets, pizza boxes, fast food wrappers, firefighting foam, and more. They linger and accumulate in the environment and our bodies for a long time.
There is widespread contamination of our drinking water from PFAS, affecting every region of the country. But scientists and government agencies like EPA are just now beginning to understand the scope of the problem and scale of response that will be required. EPA is the only federal agency with the mission and the tools to lead a comprehensive effort to clean up PFAS. But how much of EPA will be left after President Trump finishes burning it to the ground? How will EPA lead the response to this threat if the workforce is gutted and stripped of its most experienced scientists and responders? You cannot respond to a problem without responders. The EPA staffing crisis was manufactured by the Trump administration, but we will all pay the price for it.
Since taking office in 2017, the president has called for reducing EPA staffing levels by 40 percent. Yet the hollowing out of EPA is already occurring. The agency lost (and did not replace) more than 1,000 employees in just the first full fiscal year of the Trump presidency. At this pace, EPA will lose 25 percent of its staff by 2020.
Anyone who thinks that the environmental threats we face can be solved by slashing staff at the main agency responsible for tackling these challenges is kidding themselves. Take climate change, the most acute environmental threat of them all. We need effective federal policy to achieve deep, long-term reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years or we will face catastrophic and extremely expensive effects from warming. Through the Clean Air Act, EPA was poised to take action before President Trump took office. Trump has rolled back that authority. But it is one thing to cripple the EPA’s legal authority to act, and quite another to debilitate the agency for years to come by robbing it of the specialized scientists, engineers, and other experts who have dedicated their careers to this mission. You don’t disband an army when there are battles still to fight, much less when the biggest of battles is on the horizon.
Our drinking water contamination, air problems, and emerging threats like PFAS and climate change all require EPA’s immediate and extensive efforts to protect our public health and the environment. Yet instead of investing in the resources that will be necessary to tackle these critical problems, the Trump administration is laser-focused on crippling EPA by gutting our staff. Stewardship and leadership are both in short supply, and Congress must fill the breach. With more funding and support for the vital work we do, EPA can begin to replenish its staff and soon, hopefully, get back to doing the work that lies ahead. The health of our planet depends on it.
Gary Morton is president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents more than 9,000 EPA workers nationwide.