EPA employees rally against Scott Pruitt’s policies on eve of congressional testimony

Lawmakers, environmental groups show solidarity with workers.

EPA employees and environmental advocates rallied in front of the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2018 in favor of a stronger commitment to environmental protection by the Trump administration. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
EPA employees and environmental advocates rallied in front of the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2018 in favor of a stronger commitment to environmental protection by the Trump administration. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, agency employees rallied outside EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to express their opposition to how their leader has put the interests of industry over those of the American people.

Approximately 100 EPA employees attended the rally. Most of them — aside from their union representatives — were hesitant to voice their opinions out of fear of retribution. Lawmakers and environmental leaders also spoke at the rally and were more blunt in their declarations, with each calling for Pruitt to resign or for President Trump to fire him.

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On Thursday, Pruitt is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee in the morning and then before the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee in the afternoon to discuss the EPA’s budget.

But the primary topic of discussion at the hearings is expected to be all the scandals surrounding Pruitt. A group of 131 representatives and 39 senators signed a resolution that was introduced last week calling for him to resign.

EPA employees and environmental advocates rally outside the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2018. CREDIT: Mark Hand/ThinkProgress
EPA employees and environmental advocates rally outside the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2018. CREDIT: Mark Hand/ThinkProgress

Under Pruitt’s leadership, working at the EPA “has been tougher than ever,” according to Nate James, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3331.

“Our mission is to protect the environment and human life. That is the sole purpose of our existence here. That is what your tax dollars pay for,” James said in a speech at the rally, which was held in a plaza between the EPA headquarters and the Trump International Hotel. “But right now, it seems that our administrator is more focused on what we can do to make life a lot easier for corporations than the American public. I have to speak out against that.”

After his speech, James told ThinkProgress that he was impressed with the turnout at the rally and conceded that not as many EPA employees would have attended a similar rally as recently as three months ago. “But what we’re going through inside these walls, their presence today speaks volumes to that,” he said.

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Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who spoke at the rally, said he learned that some EPA employees were afraid to come to Wednesday’s rally because they feared retaliation from their supervisors. ThinkProgress approached several EPA employees to ask why they decided to attend the rally. All of them, except one, declined to comment.

The one EPA employee, who asked not to be named, said Pruitt has been much worse for environmental protection than President Reagan’s first EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch, whose tenure was marked by sharp budget cuts, conflict with career EPA employees, a steep decline in cases filed against polluters, and a scandal over the mismanagement of the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program.

What makes Pruitt different is that unlike Reagan’s first term, the entire Trump administration — plus Republicans in Congress — are supportive of his efforts to roll back environmental protections, the employee said. From removing all references to climate change from the EPA’s website to meeting with industry officials instead of scientists, “it’s just unbelievable,” according to the employee.

Despite the daily distractions of Pruitt scandals, EPA employees continue to do their work. “I’m just amazed at the employees — they’re for the people,” the EPA employee said. “They’re trying to do the best job that they can to make sure that we’re helping the people.”

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Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), one of the anti-Pruitt leaders in Congress, attended the rally to show his solidarity with the EPA employees, many of whom are his constituents. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Beyer said when he first ran for Congress in 2014, he made fighting climate change one of his top priorities.

Pruitt is “the enemy of that whole notion,” Beyer said, from taking climate change information off the EPA’s website to pushing Trump to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

With Pruitt scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Beyer said, “It would not be astonishing if we discover that tonight he has been dismissed or has chosen to spend more time with his family.”