A scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shared his frustrations of working under the Trump administration in a somber letter to the editor of The New York Times on Wednesday.
Environmental scientist Michael Kravitz wrote that he is "saddened" to watch EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt "dismantle the agency," and that he walks among his colleagues "like a zombie in a bad dream." He said the EPA's weekly newsletter went from talking about environmental protection to featuring news about "flower shows and photo contests."
Kravitz ended the letter by stating: "I hope the nightmare ends soon."
"The career staff at the EPA go to work for the EPA because they care deeply about the problems they're working on," Michael Wara, an associate professor at Stanford Law School who focuses on climate and environment, told ATTN:. "You don't go to the EPA to get rich."
Wara said many in the EPA are demoralized right now because the new leadership doesn't support their goals. "There's a real sense that the folks that are running the show are not working from a fact-based playbook," he said.
Before EPA administrator Scott Pruitt took over the agency he was one of its fiercest opponents. According to the Huffington Post, Pruitt sued the agency 13 times in his role as Oklahoma's attorney general. Since taking control of the EPA, Pruitt has reasserted his belief that human activity is not the primary contributor to climate change, breaking with the overwhelming scientific consensus and the agency's own finding that human activity is indeed the chief driver of global warming.
Pruitt said on Tuesday the EPA will take a "much more humble view of what the EPA's response to CO2 is within the Clean Air Act," meaning the agency will regulate carbon emissions less aggressively.
The EPA's change in direction under the Trump administration is already clear.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that reverses multiple actions former President Obama took to combat climate change. The executive order opens up federal lands to coal mining, instructs the EPA to review Obama's Clean Power Plan, and generally encourages the EPA to look at weakening environmental regulations.
Trump also ordered the EPA to take its page about climate change off its website in January. Politico reported Wednesday that employees of the Energy Department's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy are now being told not to use the term "climate change" in memos, briefings, or other written communications.
On Wednesday, Pruitt's EPA took another step that seemed to contradict the advice of its own staff.
Pruitt decided on Wednesday not to ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the EPA proposed banning in October, 2015. As AgriPulse reported, the EPA wrote at the time that it "[could not] conclude that the risk from the potential aggregate exposure [to chlorpyrifos] meets the FFDCA safety standard.”
"The leadership went against the recommendations of the EPA scientists," Wara said. "There was a clear judgment that Pruitt made against the views of the agency staff to accept more public health risk because of the cost of doing something else. In a way it's the first actual regulatory decision [...] Pruitt has made, and it signals a change of course that's unfortunate."