When it comes to the Trump administration’s plan to slash federal spending and constrict the federal bureaucracy, few agencies have attracted as much attention as the Environmental Protection Agency. The Trump administration’s proposed “skinny budget” cuts the agency’s budget by 31 percent, by far the largest cut of any federal agency. And recently leaked EPA documents outline plans to cut the agency’s workforce by 25 percent, while eliminating some 56 programs including programs aimed at monitoring and protecting public health and the environment.
One part of the agency, however, could get a boost under the Trump administration’s plan: Administrator Scott Pruitt’s personal security detail. According to a draft of the budget obtained by the Washington Post, the Trump administration has asked for 10 additional full-time security staffers to be added to the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement. Those staffers would have one job — acting as constant bodyguards for Pruitt.
Adding 10 full-time staffers to Pruitt’s security detail would more than double the size of the security detail normally afforded to EPA administrators. And that would come at a time when the Trump administration is proposing sharp cuts elsewhere in the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, with the budget calling for reductions in civil and criminal enforcement of almost 60 percent. That would leave the agency with just $4 million to investigate environmental crimes and impose penalties. And while it’s unclear how much Pruitt’s increased detail would cost the agency, estimates for the cost of U.S. Marshals dedicated to protect Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is roughly $8 million over an eight-month period.
It’s not uncommon for cabinet members to have some kind of security detail — former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, as Quartz’s Zoë Schlanger points out, was routinely guarded by a security detail during site visits or at airports. But requesting a 24/7 detail is an unprecedented request for an EPA chief.
But much of Pruitt’s ascent to the top of the EPA has been unprecedented. Before being nominated by Trump to run the agency, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Pruitt has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, once sending the EPA a letter on Oklahoma attorney general letterhead that was drafted by Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas companies. Pruitt also does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, telling CNBC’s Squawk Box that he did not think carbon dioxide emissions were the primary cause of global warming.
Outside environmental groups and career EPA employees have been sharply critical of both Pruitt’s views on climate science and his long-standing antagonism towards the agency he now heads. Before he was confirmed, hundreds of EPA employees protested his nomination. Several high-ranking career employees have resigned over his views — one employee, in his resignation letter, said that employees are “openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration and by extension [Pruitt].”
Myron Ebell — a vocal EPA critic and climate denier that lead Trump’s EPA transition team without ever actually speaking to Trump—told E&E News that this “hostility within the agency,” as well as “continuing activities by the left to foment hatred,” make Pruitt’s request for more security detail “prudent.”
But beyond protecting the safety of one particular man against a critical public, the EPA — and by extension, the EPA administrator — is tasked with protecting the public health and environment against a myriad of dangers, from toxic pesticides to dangerous particles in the air.
Thus far, however, the Trump administration seems more interested in reversing environmental protections than protecting the environment. In late March, Pruitt announced that the EPA would not ban a pesticide that had been linked to brain damage despite the recommendations of the agency’s own scientists. The Trump administration has already directed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, a regulation that, by some estimates, would have saved thousands of lives each year thanks to reduced output of sulfur dioxide and other emissions from power plants. They are also reportedly considering rewriting the Obama-era ozone rule that placed stricter limits on ground-level ozone, a dangerous air pollutant.
The Trump budget holds even more bad news for programs and regulations that protect public health. It proposes eliminating state grants meant to help prevent childhood exposure to lead, and grants aimed at helping states monitor public water systems. Under the proposed budget, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice — created to ensure that environmental protections extend to the country’s most vulnerable communities — would be completely eliminated. And the budget calls for slashing enforcement of Superfund cleanup by 45 percent, which could put the fate of toxic sites across the country in the hands of chronically-underfunded state environmental agencies.
According to the EPA’s website, it is the agency’s mission to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with the administrator of the EPA asking for extra protection — but it seems only fair that the American public be granted similar protection in return.