‘Constant churn’ in EPA office at heart of Biden’s agenda

Source: By Kevin Bogardus, Robin Bravender, E&E News • Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2024

A new office to lead on environmental justice and civil rights is dealing with a transition of top staff and questions over whether it can meet administration goals.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan stands near a petroleum refinery as he conducts a television interview, while touring neighborhoods that abut the refinery, in Reserve, Louisiana. Gerald Herbert/AP

Turnover in high-profile EPA positions has sparked fears about the Biden administration’s unprecedented funding to marginalized communities, which could be on the chopping block if former President Donald Trump is reelected.

A top EPA adviser who was under consideration to lead the agency’s environmental justice and civil rights office departed in February. President Joe Biden hasn’t nominated anyone to fill the position and isn’t expected to during a polarized election year. In addition, the veteran official who was leading the agency’s civil rights work moved elsewhere, while political appointees have parachuted in to grapple with the program in recent weeks.

Those staff shake-ups come as the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights manages a monumental $3 billion in grants for environmental and climate justice, much of which has to be awarded this year. The changeover in staff has prompted anxiety that those efforts could be slowed and leave piles of cash vulnerable if Trump returns to the White House in 2025.

“The constant churn at the top and seeming to focus on things other than the biggest task at hand is troubling,” said a former EPA official who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the personnel moves.