Cameronleon, I see that you are a big fan of Rachael Maddow. So am I. I see that you are an even bigger fan of Deborah Swackhamer. So am I. Most of all, I see that MSNBC is your all time favorite cable news channel. It's my favorite as well. Congratulations my fellow liberal. You finally see the light. Now that you are no longer an insane crazy nut job right wing republican, you finally know what it means to be a human being. Congratulations!
Microcystin. the toxin, disrupts insulin signaling and interferes with glycogen synthase kinase homeostasis. GSK is a major enzyme in the aluminosilicate hypothesis of Alzheimer's and the site of interest in that hypothesis is the ethmoid sinus, the same site of entry for influenza viruses.
Silicosis, also known as Potter’s rot, has the dubious distinction of being the most widespread occupational lung disease. It affects people the world over but is more prevalent among workers in developing countries. Directly caused by the breathing in of crystalline silica dust, it inflames and scars the lungs’ upper lobes. Alarmingly, from the early to mid-‘90s, each year, China recorded over 24,000 fatalities as a result of the disease – the telltale signs of which include coughing, fever and shortness of breath. Respiratory problems from the inhalation of dust have been acknowledged since at least Ancient Greek times, but of course, with industrialization, the problem only worsened. There is no known cure for silicosis; treatments instead focus on symptom-relief and reducing exposure to any lung irritants. The use of respirators has brought the mortality rate down in the United States, but silicosis remains an ever-present danger for others in the less developed world – from silver miners in Bolivia to denim sandblasters in Turkey.
2. Coalworker’s Pneumoconiosis
Coalworker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP), widely known as “black lung disease,” is another killer. Mentioned in the same breath both as silicosis (see entry 1) and Caplan’s syndrome (a lung condition caused by exposure to coal, asbestos or silica dust), CWP is brought about by long-term exposure to and inhalation of coal dust. It can lead to inflammation and in extreme cases the death of cells in living tissue (necrosis). Despite the fact that mining conditions have improved dramatically in recent times, 10,000 American miners have died from CWP in the last decade alone – an astonishing 7.5 percent of the country’s active underground coal miners. What’s more, rates of black lung disease are actually on the increase, nearly doubling over the past decade. In an effort to tackle the problem, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is currently offering miners a health evaluation every five years. Whether this measure is enough remains to be seen.
In its first nine months, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Donald Trump has brought one-third fewer environmental enforcements than Obama’s EPA during the same period, and one-quarter fewer enforcement actions than George W. Bush’s EPA, according to an analysis released this week by the New York Times. The agency has also imposed fewer civil penalties on polluters.
The report isn’t the first of its kind. In August, the Center for Environmental Integrity reported that EPA civil penalties had dropped 60 percent in Trump’s first six months, compared with the first six months of presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton.
In a statement responding to the Times report, the agency said, “We focus more on bringing people back into compliance than bean counting.” But that’s demonstrably false—they’re not bringing people back into compliance.
First, the newspaper’s analysis itself shows that, under Scott Pruitt, the EPA has been far less successful in forcing companies to install pollution-limiting devices, such as scrubbers. Whatever the agency is doing to foster compliance, it clearly isn’t working.
More damningly, the Times uncovered documents that seem to show a concerted effort on the part of EPA management to make it harder, or impossible, for staff to enforce the law. Regional offices may no longer order water or air-quality tests without first getting permission from EPA headquarters. EPA enforcement officers have also been ordered off active cases.
Pruitt and his top advisors no longer consult EPA’s career officials, employees with far more substantive knowledge about environmental science and federal regulation than Pruitt, whose only relevant experience before taking control of the agency was suing it from his position as attorney general for the state of Oklahoma.
Here’s the most troubling part of the EPA’s enforcement slowdown: There’s very little anyone can do about it until either Trump or Pruitt is gone. There are safeguards against changing the law: Before Pruitt can repeal regulations, he must go through a very public process and submit himself to court review. But for most statutes, there’s simply no legal mechanism by which private parties can challenge the EPA’s refusal to enforce. The only option is for private groups or individuals to sue the polluters themselves, one case at a time. That process is costly and time-consuming—and why Congress created the EPA in the first place.
If you're counting on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the future to police polluters, enforce regulations and pay for protection for clean air and water, brace yourselves for change.
As part of his bid to "Make America Great Again," President Donald Trump wants to shrink the federal environmental watchdog agency to a level it hasn't seen since the 1970s.
Trump is pushing to cut the agency’s budget by 31 percent while eliminating 50 programs and a quarter of the agency’s 15,400 jobs.
While not all of these cuts are expected to make it through the final budget process, state environmental officials in New York and Pennsylvania fear the EPA will emerge smaller, weaker and less effective.
EPA cuts "will have an impact on our efforts to protect public health and the environment," Basil Seggos, commissioner of the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a USA Today Network New York interview.
Seggos called on Congress to restore funding "and, if not, New York will step in to ensure our monitoring and restoration programs remain strong.”
In Pennsylvania, Patrick McDonnell, Department of Environmental Protection secretary, said in a recent letter to Congress: “Put simply, these cuts signal the Trump administration’s disregard for its responsibility to protect the health and safety of American citizens,”
Taking over more environmental oversight from the federal government — as Seggos suggested — could be a stretch.
About 30 percent of New York state's environmental budget is tied to federal funding, including Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, EPA’s geographic programs for Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and air- and water-monitoring programs.
Under the Trump cuts, about 3,800 EPA jobs and programs deemed “non-essential” would be scaled back, eliminated, or shifted to local and state governments.
Targeted cuts range from inspection of public water supplies to programs helping families ensure their homes are free from radon, a colorless, odorless gas that causes lung cancer. Other cuts target Superfund and brownfield programs designed to clean and reclaim polluted sites.
In his letter to Congress earlier this year, McDonnell said the cuts would have an “immediate and devastating effect” on the state’s “ability to ensure that Pennsylvania’s air is safe to breathe … water is safe to drink.”
The federal Public Water System Supervision Grant, which provides funding to monitor public water supplies, is tagged for a 30 percent cut. Consequently, there would be 30 percent fewer inspections at Pennsylvania's 8,500 public water systems, McConnell reported.
Fewer inspections mean more chances for lead and water-borne pathogens to go undetected, he added, “putting Pennsylvania’s 10.7 million public water customers at risk.”
Local officials also are fearful of Trump's proposed budget slashing.
“We don’t need any cuts,” said Joseph Yannuzzi, water superintendent for the City of Binghamton.
Local water departments work with state Department of Health officials to flag weaknesses in the system and keep current on evolving testing protocols and standards, Yannuzzi explained.
“They make suggestions for improvements to keep up to snuff, and outline requirements for the upcoming year,” Yannuzzi said.
Cuts to drinking water oversight, which would affect all 50 states as well as Indian territories, is an especially thorny subject after the crises in Flint, Michigan, where more than 100,000 residents — including 6,000 children — were exposed to water polluted with lead and other hazards after lapses beginning in 2014.
Exposures to bad water in Flint have been tied to a host of public health problems, from elevated lead in children’s blood to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. The Flint debacle led to more checks nationally that uncovered unsafe lead levels in other water sources, including localities in Tompkins County.
"What's at stake here is drinking water," Roger Sokol, director for the Division of Environmental Health Protection with New York State Department of Health, said in a recent interview with the USA Today Network in New York.
New York uses EPA money to monitor local water programs and train and certify staff. The agency collected and analyzed more than 13,000 samples in 2016.
"Any reduction could impact New York's system," Sokol said.
And New York's radon program, which addresses hot spots like those found in Southern Tier communities, could disappear completely, he said.
Trump, who has characterized the agency as overzealous, appointed Scott Pruitt, formerly Oklahoma's Attorney General and a high-profile agency nemesis, to become its leader.
Under current policy, Pruitt's enforcement actions have dropped 60 percent compared to previous Republican and Democratic administrations, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group.
Policy changes under Trump would mean fewer water and air regulations to enforce.
The president intentions to reduce oversight by an agency he says is the enemy of business are drawing challenges from state leaders concerned about local programs.
The EPA’s impact on states “is not just about money,” Seggos said. “Bad policy is (also) a bad outcome.”
The administration’s move to roll back the Clean Power Plan, Seggos said, "is a reckless mistake that gives power plants free rein to do what they will without any concern for our climate ... Climate change is a profound threat to our planet."
"It cannot be wished away by denial," Seggos added.
State officials have also raised strident objections to Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Water Rule. The repeal would remove federal protection from 5,700 miles of streams that feed drinking water supplies for more than half of the state’s population, according to a report from the New York State Attorney General’s office.
Characterizing Trump’s approach as a “reckless assault on our nation’s core public health and environmental protections,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined officials in California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia to challenge the repeal.
In legal papers, the coalition of attorneys general state the Trump administration is in “wholesale breach of foundational administrative law principles and the repeal rule is arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with law.”
The federal government failed to allow for public comment, according to the complaint. The government also disregarded “voluminous scientific basis and factual findings supporting the Clean Water Rule,” and federal case law defining “water of the United States.”
EPA programs have been a primary target for cuts by Trump since he characterized the agency as an example of federal overreach during his 2016 campaign.
Then, it was talk. Now the agency finds itself at the mercy of an unsympathetic Republican-lead Congress under new pressure to cut federal spending amid a sweeping tax bill projected to raise the federal deficit by $1 trillion.
The growing EPA fight is taking shape about land and air protections, as well as water.
Environmental advocates are pushing back against the EPA’s repeal of Obama administration policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The battle will shape America’s response to global warming.
“Scott Pruit is obliterating protections,” said Judith Enck, the former EPA Region II administrator overseeing New York and New Jersey. “He is back-benching important science and will not allow the agency to enforce the existing laws on the books.”
Before being appointed to the EPA post under Obama, Enck was the top environmental adviser for New York governors Elliott Spitzer and David Patterson. Enck’s successor under Trump, Peter Lopez, was unavailable for an interview.
With the other changes, Trump is calling for a 30-percent cut to the EPA’s Superfund program, which oversees the cleanup of the country’s most notoriously polluted sites. The president’s plan “reins in Superfund administrative costs and emphasizes efficiency efforts,” according to the "America First" budget blueprint issued by the White House.
Trump’s EPA Just Approved A Pesticide That Damages Children's Brains
Mar 30, 2017
Silicosis, also known as Potter’s rot, has the dubious distinction of being the most widespread occupational lung disease. It affects people the world over but is more prevalent among workers in developing countries. Directly caused by the breathing in of crystalline silica dust, it inflames and scars the lungs’ upper lobes. Alarmingly, from the early to mid-‘90s, each year, China recorded over 24,000 fatalities as a result of the disease – the telltale signs of which include coughing, fever and shortness of breath. Respiratory problems from the inhalation of dust have been acknowledged since at least Ancient Greek times, but of course, with industrialization, the problem only worsened. There is no known cure for silicosis; treatments instead focus on symptom-relief and reducing exposure to any lung irritants. The use of respirators has brought the. mortality rate down in the United States, but silicosis remains an ever-present danger for others in the less developed world – from silver miners in Bolivia to denim sandblasters in Turkey.
WASHINGTON — One Environmental Protection Agency employee spoke up at a private lunch held near the agency headquarters, saying she feared the nation might be headed toward an “environmental catastrophe.” Another staff member, from Seattle, sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, raising similar concerns about the direction of the agency. A third, from Philadelphia, went to a rally where he protested against agency budget cuts.
Three different agency employees, in different jobs, from three different cities, but each encountered a similar outcome: Federal records show that within a matter of days, requests were submitted for copies of emails written by them that mentioned either Mr. Pruitt or President Trump, or any communication with Democrats in Congress that might have been critical of the agency.
The requests came from a Virginia-based lawyer working with America Rising, a Republican campaign research group that specializes in helping party candidates and conservative groups find damaging information on political rivals, and which, in this case, was looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A.
Now a company affiliated with America Rising, named Definers Public Affairs, has been hired by the E.P.A. to provide “media monitoring,” in a move the agency said was intended to keep better track of newspaper and video stories about E.P.A. operations nationwide.
But the sequence of events has created a wave of fear among employees, particularly those already subject to special, who said official assurances hardly put them at ease.
“This is a witch hunt against E.P.A. employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment,” said Gary Morton, an E.P.A. employee in Philadelphia, who works on preventing spills from underground storage tanks. His emails were targeted seven days after he participated in a union rally in March challenging proposed budget cuts. “What they are doing is trying to intimidate and bully us into silence,” he said.
The contract with Definers comes at a time of heightened tension between the news media and the Trump administration. Within the E.P.A., the move is also part of a bellicose media strategy that has been helped at key moments by America Rising — even before its affiliate was hired by the agency.
An E.P.A. official vehemently defended the $120,000 contract to Definers, saying it filled a need in the media office for an improved clipping service.
“Definers was awarded the contract to do our press clips at a rate that is $87,000 cheaper than our previous vendor, and they are providing no other services,” a spokesman for the E.P.A., Jahan Wilcox, wrote in an email.
Joe Pounder, a founder of Definers Public Affairs, said several government agencies had contacted his firm about its news-tracking tool, called Definers Console, because they were seeking a service that does a better job of keeping up with the fast-paced news cycle, including tracking of live-streamed videos. He said that agency staff members familiar with the company’s work approached the firm about putting forward a bid and that Mr. Pruitt himself was not, to his knowledge, involved in the decision to select Definers.
“I hope E.P.A. employees realize after a few months that we are providing a really great and invaluable service that advances their mission,” Mr. Pounder said.
He and Matt Rhoades, his partner at Definers Public Affairs, also started America Rising. The two entities share several top executives, including Allan L. Blutstein, the lawyer who prepared the Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at the E.P.A. employees.
Some Republicans who previously worked for the agency said the hiring of Definers Public Affairs sent a worrisome message to employees already on edge and fearful of retaliation.
“Mr. Pruitt appears not to understand that the two most valuable assets E.P.A. has is the country’s trust and a very committed professional work force,” said William K. Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under George Bush. “This shows complete insensitivity, complete tone-deafness, or something worse.”
Liz Mair, president of a Republican consulting firm, said that the relatively small dollar amount of the contract was an indication that all the agency was buying was a clipping service, and not some kind of sophisticated intelligence-gathering on employees. But she added that certain E.P.A. staff members actually merited more scrutiny.
“A lot of funky stuff has been going on with E.P.A. staff,” she said.
Mr. Blutstein said in an interview on Friday that his requests to the agency tracked employees who had made public statements critical of Mr. Pruitt. He said he wanted to know if any of them had used agency email inappropriately, or had violated agency rules in some other way — findings that he could use to compromise efforts to undermine Mr. Pruitt’s work.
“It was more of a fishing expedition on my part,” he said of the at least 20 Freedom of Information requests he submitted, most for E.P.A. employees who were union leaders or had spoken critically of agency management since Mr. Pruitt’s arrival.
Even before the E.P.A. hired Definers, the group of companies, political action committees and nonprofit organizations affiliated with America Rising had frequently drafted news releases that put Mr. Pruitt and his policies in a positive light and attacked the administrator’s critics. Many items, including video clips, also appeared on NTK Network, a for-profit digital news aggregator that Mr. Pounder founded.
In addition to sharing at least nine current and former executives, Definers Public Affairs shares an office building in Arlington, Va., with the multiple arms of America Rising and NTK Network.
E.P.A. staff members said in interviews that they had the right, as private citizens or members of a federal employees’ union, to publicly discuss concerns about changes taking place at the agency under Mr. Pruitt’s management. Some noted that “media monitoring” could be expected to include tracking of statements made on Twitter and other social media platforms, include potentially critical comments agency staff members make about E.P.A. management.
Michael Cox, who worked at the E.P.A.’s Seattle regional office for 25 years, learned this weekend from an article in The New York Times that he had been among the employees under scrutiny.
Mr. Cox wrote to Mr. Pruitt in March — on the day of Mr. Cox’s retirement from the agency — to tell him that he was “increasingly alarmed about the direction of E.P.A. under your leadership,” and to urge Mr. Pruitt to “step back and listen to career E.P.A. staff,” the letter said.
Just 10 days later, a Freedom of Information request came in seeking Mr. Cox’s correspondence on the day of his resignation. The request led to the production of 62 documents, detailing the names of dozens of agency officials, as well as a note he sent to his work colleagues specifically noting that he knew they shared his concerns with how the agency is being managed — names that would now be listed for anyone reviewing the response.
“That does not make me feel very good,” he said, knowing that his emails could potentially be used against other employees.
Nicole Cantello, an E.P.A. lawyer in Chicago who has helped lead a series of enforcement actions against major air polluters in the Midwest, and whose emails also were requested, said the agency’s decision to hire Definers caused great concern.
“Now that they are working for the agency, will they have access to agency computers and perhaps try to come after me in a whole bunch of different ways?” she said. “And will they turn over their opposition research materials on us to agency officials? I just don’t know. It is very scary. Very, very scary.”
Several of the Freedom of Information requests submitted by Mr. Blutstein ask for correspondence between agency employees and members of Congress — such as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts — who have been critical of Mr. Pruitt.
“We have seen a lot of nefarious activities from Trump,” Mr. Whitehouse said. “But hiring a fossil fuel front group that specializes in political hits and is doing F.O.I.A. investigations of your agency’s own employees is a new low.”
E.P.A. employees are not the only ones who have been subjects of the group’s Freedom of Information Act requests. Mr. Blutstein also has sought emails and other information from at least two climate scientists, Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University and Robert Kopp of Rutgers University, who worked on a sweeping government climate change report. The Trump administration cleared the report for publication earlier this year.
“They’re asking for emails related to a document that has already been public and has been reviewed twice by E.P.A. and was ultimately approved by E.P.A?” Ms. Hayhoe asked. “What do they think they’re going to find?”
The nonprofit arm of America Rising, known as America Rising Squared, oversees some of the group’s most controversial work on climate change: deploying “trackers” to videotape activists like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and Democratic donor.
“This is classic propaganda from an authoritarian regime,” Mr. Steyer said. “It’s distressing that it would even happen in the United States of America.”
Brian Rogers, executive director of America Rising Squared and a senior vice president at Definers, would not say who paid for the surveillance. In an emailed statement, he said that the firm had focused on Mr. Steyer and Mr. McKibben because they “aggressively target conservative thought leaders” for scrutiny.
“America Rising Squared is committed to ensuring a balanced debate, and providing a conservative perspective on the issues and actors involved,” Mr. Rogers said.
Mr. Reilly, the former E.P.A. administrator, said the whole sequence of incidents — and now the agency’s involvement in it — was deeply disturbing.
“These are committed people,” he said of the agency employees. “It’s not just a job for them. To put their morale and their good standing in danger is going to risk losing something very valuable to the government and to the country.”
The Trump administration on Friday proposed to rewrite or kill rules on offshore oil and gas drilling that were imposed after a deadly 2010 rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The administration said the rules are an unnecessary burden on industry and rolling them back would encourage more energy production.
An offshore-drilling group welcomed the proposed rollback, while environmentalists said President Donald Trump would raise the risk of more deadly oil spills.
The Obama administration imposed tougher rules in response to the April 2010 explosion on a drilling rig used by BP called the Deepwater Horizon. The accident killed 11 workers and triggered a massive oil spill.
Commission attempts to pinpoint cause of oil spill
The Obama rules required more frequent inspections to prevent oil spills and dictated that experts onshore monitor drilling of highly complex wells in real time.
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in a statement that the Trump administration's rollback was a step toward regulatory reform. He said safety experts in the offshore energy industry would now have the chance to comment on the regulations and "assure the nation's offshore energy resources are developed safely and expeditiously."
But Miyoko Sakashita, ocean-program director for an environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, said rolling back drilling-safety standards was a recipe for disaster.
"By tossing aside the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Trump is putting our coasts and wildlife at risk of more deadly oil spills," Sakashita said in a statement. "Reversing offshore safety rules isn't just deregulation, it's willful ignorance."
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a plan to weaken fuel-economy standards put in place under the Obama administration.
The new plan would freeze standards at 2020 levels through the year 2025 and beyond. Under the Obama administration, automakers were required to reach a fleetwide average fuel economy for all cars and light trucks of 51.4 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump administration’s proposal instead freezes that figure at its 2020 level of 36.9 miles per gallon.
But the EPA’s standards refer to testing under laboratory conditions, not the mileage we get when driving our cars on the road. To know how the new standards would affect real-world gas mileage, researchers need to take the further step of modeling how real-world use differs from laboratory conditions.
Simon Mui, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group that opposes the change to the fuel standards, calculates that the change would have the net effect of reducing the average real-world fuel economy of American automobiles by about eight miles per gallon in 2025 relative to what it would be if Obama-era standards were kept in place. Mui assumes that real-world driving would result in about 80 percent of the fuel efficiency measured in laboratory testing. He cautions that as the EPA provides more information about its new proposed standard, those calculations may change.
Under the Obama rule, passenger cars and light trucks would see a real-world average of 37.4 miles per gallon by 2025, according to Mui’s calculations. Under the Trump administration’s preferred proposal, that would drop to 29.6 miles per gallon, a reduction in nationwide fuel efficiency of about 21 percent.
The NRDC assessment relies on certain assumptions about the difference between laboratory and real-world conditions, and analyses making different assumptions may calculate larger or smaller decreases. But critics and supporters of the move generally agree: Under this proposal, average real-world gas mileage would probably be significantly lower in 2025 than it would be if the Obama-era rules stayed in place.
Under the Trump administration’s proposal, fuel economy would continue to increase through 2020. But at that point the two rules diverge, with the Obama-era rule mandating continued increases in efficiency.
The difference between the two standards could amount to several hundred dollars a year in increased fuel expenditures for the typical motorist. Under the Obama rule, by 2025 the average vehicle would go through roughly 401 gallons of gasoline to drive a typical distance of 15,000 miles in one year. Under the Trump proposal, that would increase to about 507 gallons. Assuming, strictly for illustration purposes, a gasoline price of $3 per gallon, that would result in an increased annual fuel expenditure of about $318.
The Trump administration says that expenditure would be offset by reductions of several thousand dollars in the cost of new vehicles. It further argues that those reduced costs would allow more consumers to purchase newer, safer cars, which it says would save up to 1,000 lives annually. Many independent experts are skeptical of those claims.
“The law requires fuel economy standards in order to save fuel, and yet this proposal does just the exact opposite,” Shannon Baker-Branstetter, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “Thanks to emissions and efficiency rules, consumers have saved billions of dollars on fuel over the last 5 years and pollution has dropped. Rather than capitalize on this progress and continue with plans to strengthen fuel efficiency and cut pollution, this move by regulators will ultimately leave consumers footing a higher bill.”
Basically, the proposal is a payoff to the oil companies.
The Trump administration has overturned bans on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in US national wildlife refuges.
The move, reversing a policy adopted in 2014, has attracted heavy criticism from environmentalists.
It was announced in a memo by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Limited agricultural activity is allowed on some national wildlife refuges.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's deputy director, Greg Sheehan, said in the memo that the blanket ban on neonicotinoid pesticides and GM crops on refuges would end, with decisions about their use being made on a case-by-case basis.
He said genetically modified organisms helped "maximise production", and that neonics might be required "to fulfil needed farming practices".
Mr Sheehan added that the move on GM crops would improve the supply of food for migratory birds including ducks and geese, which are shot by hunters on many of the nation's refuges.
The memo names more than 50 national wildlife refuges where the new policy now applies, covering about 150 million acres across the US.
Jenny Keating of the group Defenders of Wildlife condemned the move.
"Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species," she said.
The policy is the latest in a series of Obama administration environmental restrictions to be reversed by the government of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a platform of rolling back government regulations on business.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.”
As president, he is making headway on that promise.
During the first 18 months of the Trump administration, records show, nearly 1,600 workers left the EPA, while fewer than 400 were hired. The exodus has shrunk the agency’s workforce by 8 percent, to levels not seen since the Reagan administration. The trend has continued even after a major round of buyouts last year and despite the fact that the EPA’s budget has remained stable.
Those who have resigned or retired include some of the agency’s most experienced veterans, as well as young environmental experts who traditionally would have replaced them — stirring fears about brain drain at the EPA. The sheer number of departures also has prompted concerns over what sort of work is falling by the wayside, from enforcement investigations to environmental research.
According to data released under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by The Washington Post, at least 260 scientists, 185 “environmental protection specialists” and 106 engineers are gone.
Several veteran EPA employees, who have worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the agency’s profound policy shifts under Trump hastened their departure.
“I felt it was time to leave given the irresponsible, ongoing diminishment of agency resources, which has recklessly endangered our ability to execute our responsibilities as public servants,” said Ann Williamson, a scientist and longtime supervisor in the EPA’s Region 10 Seattle office.
She left in March after 33 years at the agency, exasperated by having to plan how her office would implement President Trump’s proposed cuts and weary of what she viewed as the administration’s refusal to make policy decisions based on evidence. “I did not want to any longer be any part of this administration’s nonsense,” she said.
In a statement Friday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he was focused on right-sizing the EPA, which Republicans have argued overreached under President Barack Obama, burdening industry with regulations such as those focused on climate change.
“With nearly half of our employees eligible to retire in the next five years, my priority is recruiting and maintaining the right staff, the right people for our mission, rather than total full-time employees,” he said.
Congress has so far maintained the EPA’s budget at just more than $8 billion, and while current proposals could shrink that amount, any cuts are likely to be modest.
“The Trump administration comes in and goes way, way beyond what the budget requires,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and whose district is home to a major EPA research center. Price said multiple constituents have told him that working at the EPA has become “intolerable” after seeing their findings sidelined.
“It is profoundly demoralizing, and I think, profoundly damaging in terms of the agency’s mission,” he said.
The EPA is not alone in shedding personnel under Trump, despite the fact that Congress passed a $1.3 trillion budget bill in March that boosted both military and domestic spending.
The State Department’s total number of permanent employees, for instance, fell 6.4 percent between Trump’s inauguration and March 2018, according to federal records, while the Education Department declined 9.4 percent during that time.
Part of the drop stems from a government-wide hiring freeze Trump imposed after his inauguration, which lasted nearly three months. The president has continued to press for a leaner federal payroll, asking Congress recently to withhold pay raises for federal workers in 2019.
In a few instances, Trump’s deputies are trying to fill the widespread vacancies in their department’s ranks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently began trying to staff the many senior positions that remained empty under his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs is eager to hire doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to fill thousands of vacancies.
But at the EPA, it is largely a case of career staff members headed for the exits. Hundreds of employees accepted buyouts last summer, and records show that nearly a quarter of the agency’s remaining 13,758 employees are now eligible to retire. At its peak in the late 1990s, the EPA employed more than 18,000 people.
Christopher Zarba, who retired in February after serving as director of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, disagreed with former administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision last year to overhaul the board’s membership. Zarba, a 38-year EPA veteran, said that for many staff members, a belief in the agency’s mission had compensated for less-than-ideal working conditions.
“That is the crazy glue that holds the place together, the idea, ‘This is important. We’re making a difference,’ ” he said. “And when that crazy glue begins to fall apart, things change.”
That sentiment played a role in Betsy Smith’s decision to retire in June after 20 years with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development — a department singled out for massive cuts in Trump’s first budget proposal. She said officials largely shelved a project she was leading that aimed to help port communities deal with climate change and other environmental challenges.
“It’s really awful to feel like you don’t have any role to play, that there’s not any interest in the work you’re doing,” said Smith, 62. “My feeling was I could do better work to protect the environment outside the EPA.”
Troy Hottle, 32, arrived at the EPA in early 2016 as a research fellow after getting his doctorate in sustainable engineering at Arizona State University. He expected to forge a career there, as others like him had historically done.
“I really felt good about what I was doing and who I was working with,” Hottle said.
But a year and a half into his time at the EPA, the future hiring prospects within the Office of Research and Development seemed uncertain at best. The career path he had “spent half a lifetime” pursuing, he said, no longer looked so appealing.
Last September, when he got a job offer from a national environmental consulting firm, he decided to make the leap.
After his arrival, Pruitt quickly gained a reputation for excluding career officials from key decisions and showing little regard for the agency’s own research. He also took the president’s desire to scale back the EPA to heart, repeatedly boasting about how a buyout and early retirement push last year reduced the agency workforce.
Other conservatives also have cheered the whittling down of EPA’s size and reach as appropriate and overdue.
“It doesn’t take a bigger bureaucracy to clean our environment,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing the EPA’s budget, said in a statement. “A lean and efficient workforce at the EPA is a win for taxpayers and the environment by allowing more funding to go towards efforts to clean our water and air.” The agency also underwent buyouts during the Obama administration, but EPA still had about 15,000 employees when he left office.
EPA officials last year launched a reorganization aimed at streamlining the agency, and Wheeler has struck a more measured tone as he has pursued it. A former EPA staff member himself, he praised career employees in a speech after his appointment, saying his “instincts” would be to defend their work and sympathizing about the stress that comes with the changes the agency is undergoing.
On Thursday, he sent an agencywide email announcing that regional offices would be redesigned to mirror the structure at headquarters.
As the departures continue, some EPA workers have voiced worries that the administration’s refusal to fill vacancies with younger employees has effectively blocked the pipeline of new talent.
Dan Costa, 70, joined the EPA 34 years ago as a staff scientist, rising through the ranks to direct its national air, climate and energy research program in 2011. He stepped down from that post in January, and he said he spent part of the last year counseling younger researchers who saw no possibility of replicating his career path.
“I had young people come into my office, close the door and say, ‘What should I do? Should I be looking for a job somewhere else?’ ” he said. He said he advised one young man to “test the waters” given the current regime. “These people are like termites, gnawing at the foundation.”
Multiple current and former employees also say that the exodus at the EPA has left important work falling through the cracks. In Chicago, for instance, a civil investigator responsible for probing who is responsible for Superfund sites left earlier this year and has yet to be replaced, said Mike Mikulka, president of the local union that represents EPA employees.
“You can talk all you want, but your actions speak far louder,” he said, noting that Pruitt had held up Superfund as a top priority during his tenure. “What’s happening is that the lowest priority work just doesn’t get done. And some of that work is really critical.”
One of the EPA divisions hardest hit by staff cuts is the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, whose numbers dipped 15.7 percent between January 2017 and August 2018. Several experts said that any cuts to that division have a major impact because the vast majority of its budget comes from personnel costs rather than grants or other expenditures.
Granta Nakayama, who headed the office from 2005 to 2009, said that it couldn’t sustain that deep a staffing cut without curtailing some of its operations.
“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,” said Nakayama, now a partner at the law firm King & Spalding. “If you don’t have boots on the ground, it doesn’t happen.”