Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset'

Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset'
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Six former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations are calling for a “reset” at the agency, prompting pushback from the Trump administration.

Former administrators Lee Thomas, William Reilly, Carol Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Energy Department proposes showerhead standards rollback after Trump complaints | Interior memo scaling back bird protections is 'contrary to law,' court rules | Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' Azar arrives in Taiwan amid tensions with China MORE were somewhat critical of the current administration but voiced optimism about the EPA's future in an open letter published Wednesday.

“As EPA approaches its 50th anniversary this December, we believe the time has come to reset the future course for EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead,” they wrote. 

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“While we are concerned about the current state of affairs at EPA, we are hopeful for the agency’s future,” they added. “Capable and talented staff are ready to answer the call. They have labored in good faith across administrations of both parties to fulfill EPA’s mission by following the law, applying the best available science, and displaying openness and transparency with the public.”

In the letter, they endorsed the broad goals of new recommendations for the agency from the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), a group of hundreds of former agency employees, which also calls for “resetting the course” of the agency. 

These goals include conducting analyses “free from political interference,” resolving inequitable environmental conditions faced by disadvantaged communities and prioritizing actions that provide the greatest health benefits to the most people.

The agency rejected the calls for a reset in a statement to The Hill. 

“EPA Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler is proud of our record addressing environmental problems impacting Americans, including delisting Superfund sites that have lingered for years,” said EPA spokesperson James Hewitt. 

“He won’t be taking ‘reset’ advice from administrators who ignored the Flint lead crisis, botched the Gold King Mine response, and encouraged New Yorkers to [breathe] contaminated air at Ground Zero,” Hewitt added. 

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Whitman, an EPA administrator during the George W. Bush administration, criticized the administration's response to the letter. 

"Administrator Wheeler's reaction illustrates the point that EPA has a long way to go to get back on track, and it should start by welcoming input from experts instead of being dismissive and insulting,” she said in a statement. 

The report from the EPN also made more specific policy recommendations to the agency, such as suspending its rollback of Obama-era water protections and affirming California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards, both of which have been major points of contention.

The EPA has also rolled back a number of other environmental rules in recent years like regulations governing fuel efficiency standards and power plants. The agency has also reportedly seen hundreds of staffers depart under the current administration. 

This is not the first time bipartisan former staffers have criticized where the agency is headed. 

Four former administrators last year criticized the Trump EPA in congressional testimony, saying that it has strayed from its mission.

Updated at 3:45 p.m.