Former Obama energy advisor warns EPA is being ‘hollowed out’

A former senior energy adviser to President Obama believes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being “hallowed out” under the Trump administration, citing employee turnover and low morale.

“I think that’s part of the reason why the morale of the Environmental Protection Agency is so low,” Elgie Holstein, now a Senior Director for Strategic Planning at the left-leaning Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), told Hill.TV conservative host Buck Sexton in response to a question over the EPA’s new leadership under the Trump administration.

“People are leaving, the political appointees aren’t replacing them, the agency is being hollowed out,” Holstein continued.

"The agency is fighting to remain useful and relevant but it has to follow the law," he also said.

In July, then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Trump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Overnight Energy: Former EPA chiefs say Trump has abandoned agency's mission | Trump in Iowa touts ethanol and knocks Biden | Greens sue Trump over drilling safety rollbacks | FDA downplays worries over 'forever chemicals' MORE, announced his resignation after facing months of ethics controversies.

Andrew R. Wheeler was subsequently named as the acting head of the agency. Trump formally nominated Wheeler to succeed Pruitt as EPA chief earlier this month.

Wheeler, who is a former coal industry lobbyist, is similarly facing ethics complaints, though he will likely be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), wrote a letter to the EPA’s acting inspecting general asking the office to investigate Wheeler over whether he violated his ethics pledge regarding his meetings with former fossil fuel clients after he took over the agency in April.

An EPA spokesperson has denied the accusations.

The agency, meanwhile, is facing a record number of transparency lawsuits.

In December, the EDF filed another lawsuit against the EPA in an effort to compel the agency to release public records about President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing planet-warming emissions from power plants.

The nonprofit group argues that EPA officials failed to release requested records as required by law.

Holstein said he believes the group has a “very strong” case, adding that he is “disappointed” by Trump’s efforts to “dismantle” environmental protections that have been established under previous administrations.

“The great disappointment is after years of scientists doing this work, of lawyers doing this work, why should we have to be fighting against a president bound and determined to dismantle the environment protections that we’ve built up over many decades —Democratic and Republican presidents alike,” he told Hill.TV.

Since taking office, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE has targeted a wide range of environmental policies aimed at combating climate change. This includes not only Obama-era policies like The Clean Power Plan, but also the Clean Water Act, which was first signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon.

Trump has also repeatedly cast doubt on climate change science. 

In November, President Trump expressed skepticism over a government-mandated report issued by federal scientists that outlined the devastating effects of climate change. 

—Tess Bonn