Why she quit: EPA scientist’s scathing letter of resignation

On her way out the door, after 30 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, Elizabeth Southerland left a scathing note detailing why she quit. She was, most recently, the director of science and technology in the Office of Water. Her farewell letter was posted publicly by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER]. Her letter reflects concerns expressed by many other scientists about the anti-science, anti-environment policies that threaten the core mission of EPA and the health of the U.S. populace.

Here are some highlights from her very gutsy letter:  [my emphasis added]

On the agenda of Trump’s new EPA director, Scott Pruitt

…In his first address to EPA staff, the new Administrator admonished us for acting outside legal mandates and running roughshod over states’ rights. The Administrator subsequently assured the states that he will initiate a cooperative federalism approach in which the power to govern is finally shared between EPA and the states. In fact, EPA has always followed a cooperative federalism approach…

…All the federal environmental statutes set national standards for protection of public health and the environment because Congress recognized that some states might be willing, for economic or other reasons, to tolerate much less protection than their neighboring states

 Under the new federalism, however, the President’s FY18 budget proposes cuts to state and tribal funding as draconian as the cuts to EPA, while at the same time reassigning a number of EPA responsibilities to the states and tribes. If they want to maintain their current level of monitoring, permitting, inspections, and enforcement, states will have to increase taxes and establish new user  fees.

On the Trump administration’s one in, two out policy on regulations:

…the President goes further by requiring that any new regulation be accompanied by repeal of two existing regulations of equal or greater cost. To implement this “regulation trading” program, EPA will have to choose which Congressional law to ignore, and face litigation through costly citizen suits. This poses a real Sophie’s choice for public health agencies like EPA. 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?

…Unfortunately, even existing protections will not remain in place since the administration has also launched a repeal, replace, modify initiative which is not tied to issuing new rules. Any environmental protection rule promulgated at any time in the past may be repealed by this administration, as well as any science or technical document ever published by EPA.

The new EPA Administrator already has repeals of 30 rules under consideration, one of which is the steam electric rule promulgated in 2015 after EPA spent years collecting data on power plants, millions of dollars conducting engineering and economic analyses of those data, and months responding to extensive public comment. The final rule required for the first time that the highly toxic wastes of coal fired electric plants be treated rather than poured untreated into large holding ponds where the toxic chemicals seep into ground water and overflow into surface water, contaminating public water supplies and private wells and poisoning fish and wildlife.

…The major budget cuts to EPA, state and tribal environmental programs and the potential repeal of many existing regulations and science documents is not a cooperative federalism approach. It is an industry deregulation approach based on abandonment of the polluter pays principle.

On the folly of short-term savings

Environmental catastrophes have often occurred when there was a decision to roll the dice and achieve a short term gain at the risk of disastrous long term costs —Hurricane Katrina where small savings in flood protection levees resulted in one of the most catastrophic flooding and environmental disasters in U.S. history and Flint, Michigan where minimal costs for corrosion control or an alternative water supply were dwarfed by the subsequent lead contamination of children.

On myth vs. fact

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

…It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just.