A skeptic’s wish list for abolishing agency pieces

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017

The climate change skeptic who led President Trump’s U.S. EPA transition effort has sent a list to the White House about which agency programs he’d like to see axed.

They include: EPA’s enforcement shop, all 10 EPA regional offices, environmental justice programs and environmental education efforts.

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sent his recommendations to the White House after Trump invited the public to offer advice about where to cut federal agencies.

Ebell formally submitted his comments in June but is publicly releasing them today in a document titled, “Shrinking Government Bureaucracy: Rethinking the Environmental Protection Agency.” Ebell — a prominent critic of mainstream climate science and of greenhouse gas rules — led Trump’s EPA transition team.

Some of Ebell’s suggestions for cutting EPA programs appear unlikely, given reluctance by members of Congress to slash EPA’s budget and staffing as extensively as the Trump administration has proposed. But Ebell isn’t alone in pushing for drastic reforms, and the White House and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are eager to rein in an agency that they think overreached during the Obama years.

“I would call it a reasonable wish list or a practical wish list,” Ebell said yesterday in an interview.

Ebell has consistently called on the Trump administration to scale back EPA’s workforce. Just after Trump’s inauguration, he told E&E News he’d like to see the agency’s 15,000-person staff slashed by about 10,000 employees (Greenwire, Jan. 26).

The White House pushed for more modest reductions in its March budget plan, proposing eliminating about 3,200 employees from EPA’s workforce, and Congress has signaled that it won’t approve cuts that deep.

Sizable staffing reductions, Ebell said, “are the kind of thing that needs to be done if you’re going to reform the EPA permanently.”

“As long as you have a lot of excess regulators, you’re going to have a lot of excess regulations,” he added.

Among the offices Ebell wants to see chopped are all 10 EPA regional shops. Their emergency response capabilities would be transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The EPA’s 10 regional offices duplicate much of the work of the agency’s headquarters and of state environmental protection agencies,” he told the White House.

Rumors that regional offices might be on the chopping block have already sparked concerns among EPA staffers and environmental advocates. Pruitt recently denied that the administration planned to combine EPA’s Chicago-based regional office with the regional office in Kansas (E&E News PM, June 15).

Ebell would also like to see EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance shuttered with its functions returned to program offices. For example, the EPA air office would be charged with enforcement of the Clean Air Act, he said, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication.

That idea has been met with fierce opposition from former EPA employees and environmentalists, who warned that closing the enforcement shop would allow polluters to go unchecked (E&E Daily, Feb. 9).

Ebell is also pushing EPA to overhaul its science programs. Currently, he said, EPA is “adjusting the science to fit predetermined policy decisions.” He wants the agency to bar the reliance on scientific studies “for which the underlying raw data are not public” and to “eliminate the consensus process from scientific advisory boards to allow for minority opinions.”

The CEI recommendations steer clear of advice on major climate policies, like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan rule and the EPA endangerment finding for greenhouse gases.

Ebell said these latest recommendations were intended to offer a concise wish list, rather than reiterating concerns about climate policies. On that front, “they’re doing what Trump promised,” he said of the administration.

Trump has already directed EPA to withdraw the Clean Power Plan, although the administration’s plans for the endangerment finding are less clear. CEI petitioned the agency to reconsider the Obama administration’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, a finding that triggers Clean Air Act rules for those emissions.

Ebell also calls for the elimination of environmental education programs and environmental justice programs. “It is unclear how ‘environmental justice’ fits into the EPA’s mission to implement public health and safety laws,” he said.