‘These people are like termites’: Trump team returns EPA to Reagan-era staffing levels

1 in 6 EPA experts who enforce clean air and water laws are gone.

President Trump at EPA  Headquarters on March 28, 2017.  CREDIT: Ron Sach-Pool/Getty Images.
President Trump at EPA Headquarters on March 28, 2017. CREDIT: Ron Sach-Pool/Getty Images.

Under President Donald Trump, the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shrunk to levels not seen since the Reagan administration.

But if Trump has his way, pollution levels will rise to Reagan-era levels too. Not only is the president seeking to roll back or terminate countless clean air and clean water rules, but he wants to make sure that the laws we do have in place are not enforced.

Since Trump took office, some 1,600 workers have left the EPA — including 260 scientists, 106 engineers, and 185 “environmental protection specialists,” according to the Washington Post.

Indeed, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has shrunk a  stunning 15.7 percent in the past  18 months — nearly one in six workers have left.


Former office director Granta Nakayama told the Washington Post, “If you don’t have people to enforce the regulations, you’re not going to get enforcement, and you’re not going to get compliance,”

Despite the fact that EPA funding has been fairly stable, the Trump team has made the EPA a hostile environment for career staff who actually care about the environment.

One EPA regional office headquarters in Denver, Colorado, for instance, has turned to therapy dogs as a form of stress relief amidst more work pressures.

And during his tenure, former administrator Scott Pruitt left staff out of major decisions and dismissed the EPA’s on scientific research — while at the same time favoring big polluters.


Meanwhile, there have been under 400 new hires. And as Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin tweeted, “Many of the new hires include political appointees and advisory committee members, who earn no more than $150/year and only meet on a periodic basis.”

So the large brain drain is being accompanied by an influx of anti-science, pro-industry political appointees. The overall effect is pernicious.

As one recently retired 34-year EPA veteran described the current regime, “These people are like termites, gnawing at the foundation.”