Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees rallied Monday against the impending confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, in what appears to be the first protest by federal workers against the Trump administration.
Roughly 300 people — a third of whom work for the agency— took to the street Monday outside the agency’s Chicago regional office. Both staff, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and managers attended the rally, which took place during their lunch breaks, organizers said.
“People feel pretty beleaguered,” union representative Nicole Cantello told ThinkProgress.
EPA employees, and the environmentalists who joined them, are worried about Pruitt’s history of opposing the EPA’s environmental protections, as well as indications from the Trump administration that the EPA will undergo massive cutbacks.
“We are trying to explain to people what EPA does and that it is crucial to the health and well-being of the Midwest and Chicago,” Cantello said.
Pruitt was pushed through the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last week. Democratic senators, who have complained that Pruitt has not been forthcoming about his ties to the oil and gas industry or about his environmental record, boycotted the committee vote, but the Senate body is expected to vote on Pruitt’s nomination this week.
“It’s not just about rejecting Pruitt,” Cantello said. “It’s a culmination of all of these actions that the union workers see as hostile to their livelihoods.”
And their livelihoods, in this case, are as lawyers, scientists, press officers, engineers, and grant writers whose goal is to ensure clean air and water for the U.S. public.
Former EPA employees — who worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents — are also concerned about Pruitt’s nomination and the risk he presents to the agency’s mission.
More than 400 former agency officials sent a letter to the Senate on Monday, urging them reject Pruitt’s nomination.
“Mr. Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law,” former employees wrote in a letter organized by the Environmental Integrity Project, a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that was founded by former EPA officials.
“While serving as Oklahoma’s top law enforcement officer, Mr. Pruitt issued more than 50 press releases celebrating lawsuits to overturn EPA standards to limit mercury emissions from power plants, reduce smog levels in cities and regional haze in parks, clean up the Chesapeake Bay and control greenhouse gas emissions,” the 441 former EPA officials wrote. “In contrast, none of Mr. Pruitt’s many press releases refer to any action he has taken to enforce environmental laws or to actually reduce pollution.”
Kady McFadden, deputy director of the Sierra Club Illinois, which participated in the rally, told ThinkProgress that Pruitt’s nomination is indicative of the Trump administration’s approach to environmental protections.
“The threat to the EPA is larger than Scott Pruitt,” McFadden said. “The Trump transition team sort of has it out for protecting these basic American rights.”
Several local politicians, including a state senator, a state assembly representative, and local water officials, spoke at the rally.
McFadden said that this was only the first action, and that employees would continue to resist efforts to either silence environmental workers or reduce their activities.
“The spirit of the rally was, ‘We’re not going to be silenced’,” she said. “Science is real, and the work that [they] are doing is just protecting the basic fundamental rights to a healthy community.”