Left says Trump EPA heavy on industry, political insiders
The Trump administration has filled its politically appointed positions at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with officials tied to President Trump’s campaign, industries the agency regulates, and many with connections to Administrator Scott Pruitt’s past job as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
In resumes for two dozen political appointees who joined the agency since Inauguration Day, ties to Pruitt and Trump shine, while few employees have much experience in environmental protection.
The resumes were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by American Oversight, a liberal group launched in March for the express purpose of investigating the Trump administration.
Some of the individuals have already left the agency, but critics say the resumes show the administration is stacking the EPA with former industry officials as well as Trump and Pruitt political backers, with few environmental experts.
Samantha Dravis, for example, leads the office of policy at the 15,000-person agency, a powerful office that influences many of the major decisions the EPA makes in areas like air and water pollution.
Her past experience has focused mainly in political and policy roles, most recently as policy director at the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that works to promote and elect GOP attorneys general. Pruitt was chairman of the group before going to the EPA.
Dravis also worked at the Charles and David Koch-funded Freedom Partners and on the presidential campaigns of Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain.
John Konkus works in the office of public affairs and has the responsibility to approve every grant solicitation.
But his resume shows little experience in grants or environmental policy. He did communications for Trump’s EPA transition team, worked at Republican communications firm Jamestown Associates and served as chief of staff to then-Lt. Gov Jennifer Carroll (R) of Florida and her successor, Carlos López-Cantera (R).
To be sure, political jobs are frequently filled with allies and people with expertise in leaders’ priorities.
The Obama administration had numerous campaign veterans in political jobs, and EPA officials often came from left-wing environmental groups.
But the political appointees’ credentials are adding to the concerns of Trump critics, who say he and Pruitt are putting politics and industry priorities over environmental protection.
“The EPA is tasked with the critical mission of protecting the air we breath and the water we drink, but instead of employing experts, Administrator Pruitt has filled the top ranks of the agency with lobbyists and political cronies,” Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director, said in a statement.
“It’s no surprise then that we’ve already seen Pruitt work hand-in-hand with big polluters and chemical companies to roll back some of the basic environmental protections that help keep us safe.”
Liz Purchia, who served as EPA’s acting associate administrator under Obama — a politically appointed job — said the Trump officials’ credentials show the administration’s true motives.
“So much for President Trump’s call for draining the swamp,” she said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of these resumes confirm what many Americans have been afraid of — that the people coming to run EPA don’t have any experience working on environmental issues. Instead, their experience is driven by industry tries and politicians who have systematically worked to reduce public health protections.”
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended himself and his colleagues.
“From former Capitol Hill aides — including the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — to officials from trade associations and individuals who have worked outside of Washington, the EPA has a diverse and talented team to implement President Trump’s mission of protecting the environment,” said Wilcox, who has worked in communications for Republican political campaigns and lawmakers for over a decade.
Scott Segal, a partner at law and lobbying firm Bracewell who has worked frequently with EPA employees for more than two decades, also defended the political appointees’ qualifications.
“Environmental policy should be informed by both practical and scientific considerations in order to get to the right result. Further, the president ran on a platform of reasonable and balanced regulations. But to say these folks aren’t qualified says more about the critic than the appointee,” Segal said.
Segal specifically defended Dravis, saying her qualifications “are more than adequate and frankly typical for an executive agency.”
The roster is not completely devoid of environmental policy experience.
Byron Brown, the deputy chief of staff for policy, worked in the EPA general counsel’s office from 2006 to 2011. George Sugiyama, the deputy associate administrator for policy, worked at the EPA from 1976 to 1986, and again from 2007 to 2009.
Brown and Sugiyama, along with many of the other political appointees, have worked for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken climate change skeptic who has served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe is another connection to Oklahoma, a common theme among many top Pruitt staffers.
Segal said tapping officials from different backgrounds could only improve the agency, and he cited the federal response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“The recent hurricane issues illustrate the need for broader less activist experience at EPA,” he said.
“Current EPA officials have worked with state, executive branch and legislative officials as well as with industry.”
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