Senior EPA official resigns with scathing message for Trump and Pruitt

“Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth.”

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

A senior official with the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned from her post, citing the Trump administration’s anti-environment and anti-regulatory agenda in her exit statement as part of her reason for leaving.

Elizabeth Southerland worked for the EPA for 30 years, most recently as Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the agency’s Water Office.

In her farewell letter, posted publicly by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Southerland singles out several Trump-era regulatory rollbacks, which she argues are threatening the core mission of the EPA.

Southerland criticized EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s approach to working with states on environmental enforcement, arguing that Pruitt’s desire to shift environmental protection to the states while cutting funding for federally-funded state environmental programs would merely force states to either increase taxes or decrease environmental enforcement.


She also raised concerns over the administration’s new requirement that for every new regulation, one regulation must be repealed.

“This poses a real Sophie’s choice for public health agencies like EPA,” Southerland wrote. “Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin? Faced with such painful choices, the best possible outcome for the American people would be regulatory paralysis where no new rules are released so that existing protections remain in place.”

But Southerland noted that Pruitt has already begun repealing 30 existing environmental regulations, like the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and a rule requiring stricter emissions monitoring for oil and gas operations on federal lands.

“When the federal government abandons the polluter pays principle, it will be up to the states, tribes and local government to decide how much of the polluters bills they will ask their residents to take on,” Southerland wrote of the Trump administration’s deregulatory approach. “The best case for our children and grandchildren is that they will pay the polluters bills through increased state taxes, new user fees, and higher water and sewer bills. The worst case is that they will have to live with increased public health and safety risks and a degraded environment.”


Southerland concluded her letter by railing against the Trump administration’s antagonism towards scientific fact. Under Pruitt, the EPA has begun a red-team, blue-team initiative aimed at challenging consensus climate science, and has regularly chastised the Obama administration for it’s “war on coal.” Pruitt, meanwhile, is under review by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General for comments he made suggesting that carbon dioxide is not the primary cause of climate change — a statement contradicted by broad scientific consensus.

“Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth,” she wrote. “The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.”

Southerland told the Washington Post that she wrote the letter because she felt it was her “civic duty to explain the impact of this administration’s policies on public health and safety.”

Southerland is not the only senior EPA official to voice criticism of the current administration upon their resignation. Mustafa Ali, former head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency, told ThinkProgress in March after his resignation that he “needed to stand up” to the new administration. And Mike Cox, who retired from the agency in April after three decades, wrote in his resignation letter that “this is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration” and, by extension, the EPA administrator.