Politics Former EPA staff like what they see in new administrator
Targeting federal spending to help EPA promote environmental justice
A small portion of the EPA’s grants budget was earmarked for environmental justice — the Biden administration is moving aggressively to remedy this. A first step in tackling environmental justice was the president's January executive order on climate, which provided no new resources but adopted a policy "to secure environmental justice" for disadvantaged communities that have been "historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution." And now the administration's American Jobs Plan proposes to use EPA's water infrastructure, Superfund and brownfields programs to achieve that goal.
Career employees departed the EPA at a fast clip during the Trump administration, but interviews with some of those who left during the Republican’s presidency indicated they are happy with how things look so far under new administrator Michael Regan.
Nearly 1,000 people left the agency after 2016, according to the fiscal 2022 budget proposal by the Biden White House. And the Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated that more than 670 of those departures were of scientific experts.
EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards meet 'the urgency of the climate crisis' by July's end
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to propose stricter emissions standards for vehicles by the end of July, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday. Regan told Bloomberg News in an interview that the new standards would be sufficient to meet "the urgency of the climate crisis.""We need to go as far as we can to meet the demands of the day," Regan added. "The science indicates we have a short window in time to reverse the path that we're on and mitigate against certain climate impacts.
Although age drove many of the departures, there was also a sense that such experts were being shut out of the policymaking process, say many of those now-former EPA career staff. And that leaves Regan, the former North Carolina environmental regulator who was sworn in March 11 as President Joe Biden’s EPA administrator, with serious morale-boosting to do.
“The morale was so low because there was political interference in the scientific work,” said Betsy Southerland, who retired in August 2017 after more than three decades with the EPA. “It’s the combination of both the clear view that there were strictly political decisions being made rather than public health decisions being made and then, secondly, being unable to influence or modify that in any respect because you literally did not have a seat at the table.”
GOP lawmakers accuse Biden EPA of imposing ‘political litmus test’ on science advisers
Top Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are accusing the Biden administration of politicizing the scientific panels that advise the Environmental Protection Agency by purging them of all Trump-appointed members. © Provided by Washington Examiner EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a rare move last week, immediately dismissed all members of the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, both of which advise the agency on the science behind its regulations.
Southerland served as director of the Office of Science and Technology in the EPA Office of Water. She and other EPA career staff who left the agency during the Trump years say Regan is off to a good start.
“There was almost like an immediate ‘Oh, we can talk again’ sort of sigh of relief,” said Stan Meiburg, who worked at the EPA for nearly 40 years. “And the new incoming administration recognizes the importance for building strong ties with the career staff.”
Meiburg was career staff for most of his time at EPA but also served as acting EPA deputy administrator, a political appointment.
It might also help that the Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget plan, which cited all those Trump-era departures, proposed a 21 percent boost in EPA funding, including money intended to recruit new hires to fill its depleted ranks.
EPA and union reach tentative agreement to restore 2007 contract protections
The largest union representing non-postal federal government workers announced Wednesday it has reached a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency to restore provisions of its 2007 contract that were rolled back under the Trump administration.The deal, effective today, will restore provisions from the contract between the EPA and the American Federation of Government Employees relating to office space, performance evaluations, official time and arbitration procedures, according to AFGE. The agreement keeps two articles from the 2020 contract in place regarding telework and work schedules. The agreement follows a Jan.
A Congressional Research Service report from last year indicated the number of “full-time equivalent” employees at the agency stood at more than 15,000 for fiscal 2017 but was down to 14,172 for fiscal 2020.
The UCS analysis specifically examined scientific staff and found that the overall level of those experts at the agency was at 11,647 in mid-2017 but had fallen to 10,587 by the end of 2019 before rebounding somewhat by the end of 2020.
Southerland pointed to a May 2020 EPA inspector general report that found hundreds at the agency reported witnessing political interference and other violations of EPA scientific integrity policies.
Southerland said remaining career staff have told her they are “thrilled” to see Regan changing direction out of the gate. She specifically praised Regan for moving to eliminate a Trump administration rule that required the agency to give greater weight to scientific studies based on publicly available data. Then-Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that requirement promoted transparency, but opponents said it would have hampered the agency’s access to key scientific data when formulating regulations.
Overnight Energy: EPA pledges new focus on environmental justice | Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers | Biden administration asks court to toss kids' climate lawsuit
IT IS WEDNESDAY, MY DUDES. Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day's energy and environment news.Today the EPA pledges a new focus on environmental justice, Republicans want answers on the firing of Trump-appointed environmental advisers and the Biden administration says an amended climate change lawsuit from children should be tossed a second time.Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at email@example.com . Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin . Reach Zack Budryk at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BudrykZack . Signup for our newsletter and others HERE.
Under Regan, the agency has also issued a new toxicity assessment for a category of what are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” after complaints about how the Trump administration produced its own assessment. And Regan announced that he is dismissing and reformulating two key advisory panels.
Critics of that move called it heavy-handed, but advocates view it as necessary, saying the previous administration excluded some experts in favor of industry allies.
Trump political appointees have defended their work at the agency, suggesting that what was characterized as political interference simply reflected policymakers sorting through differences of opinions among experts. Capitol Hill Republicans also described Trump’s EPA as returning to a focus on basic functions, such as cleaning up toxic waste sites.
Former staffer Alexis Strauss — who served as acting regional administrator for Region 9, which covers Arizona, California, Nevada and Hawaii, as well as director of the EPA water division — said there was clear tension between career and political staff from the start with Trump’s first administrator, Scott Pruitt.
Strauss worked at the EPA for 40 years before retiring in August 2019.
“Typically, there is a little bit of distrust between an incoming administration’s political appointees and the long-standing senior career managers, and that’s normal and you work through that,” Strauss said. “But this reached unprecedented levels during the Pruitt administration. There was so much mistrust of the career senior managers.”
Biden's EPA gets serious about funding environmental justice
The EPA announced a $936 million environmental justice initiative, which would represent a remarkable turnaround for an agency that currently spends just $11.8 million on environmental justice.First, its American Jobs Plan targets $111 billion to meet the water infrastructure needs of indigenous people, low-income communities and communities of color. Then, last week's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget outline announced a $936 million environmental justice initiative. That would represent a remarkable turnaround for an agency that currently spends just $11.8 million on environmental justice - little more than a rounding error in an agency budget of more than $9 billion.
She recalled how Pruitt changed the method for quantifying how many people worked for the agency. Strauss said she told him the new method would prevent the EPA from having its congressionally authorized staffing level, but she said he responded that the agency needed to be smaller.
It’s important that Regan be transparent about staffing levels with Congress and the public, Strauss said, and that he focus on building trust between the career and political staff. She also suggested that he move forward with appointing the EPA’s regional administrators, who don’t require Senate confirmation.
Those are typically appointed after the D.C.-based team is in place, but there’s no requirement to wait, she said.
She also recommended ramping up the pipeline for new hires from universities, particularly those who serve minority communities.
“We really have to move hiring faster,” she said. “Let’s make it work for more young people, and let’s rebuild EPA’s workforce.”
Meiburg, who is now director of graduate studies in sustainability at Wake Forest University, said it’s good to see the new administration value career staff again, but that won’t make many of the decisions easier. Many questions facing the EPA involve difficult judgments about risk that don’t come down to partisan differences, he said.
As an example, he used deciding what level of those “forever chemicals” should be concerning to the public. The Obama administration pegged that number at 70 parts per trillion.
“That didn’t mean that at 69 you were safe and at 71 you were dead,” he said, noting that some critics thought the guidance was too high while others thought it was too low. “Those kinds of decisions are going to be difficult for any administration, and many of them are in play beyond the ones that get a lot of the headlines, on climate especially.”
He said it’s clear there’s a “lightening of the step at EPA” because the political leadership values the agency and its work.
“Having said that, sooner or later everything degenerates into work, and that will happen with moving through on all of these rules. And not all of them will just be slam dunk, do the opposite of what the other guy did,” he said.
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NASA is neither parochial nor patriarchal .
Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA, is not happy with President Joe Biden’s nomination of former Sen. Bill Nelson to become the space agency’s next administrator. © Provided by Washington Examiner Her critique of Nelson in the pages of Scientific American as a purveyor of space pork is spot-on. Nelson is the author of the heavy-lift Space Launch System, which is obsolete before it has ever flown, not to mention being far behind schedule and over budget. Garver failed to mention her role in letting Nelson do that, which she relates in a piece published in CNBC.