Who Controls Trump’s Environmental Policy?

Source: By Lisa Friedman and Claire O’Neill, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2020

Among 20 of the most powerful people in government environment jobs, most have ties to the fossil fuel industry or have fought against the regulations they now are supposed to enforce.

Hunter coal plant in Utah Brandon Thibodeaux for NYT

A small number of people at a few federal agencies have vast power over the protection of American air and water.

Under the Trump administration, the people appointed to those positions overwhelmingly used to work in the fossil fuel, chemical and agriculture industries. During their time in government they have been responsible for loosening or undoing nearly 100 environmental protections from pollution and pesticides, as well as weakening preservations of natural resources and efforts to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Of 20 key officials across several agencies, 15 came from careers in the oil, gas, coal, chemical or agriculture industries, while another three hail from state governments that have spent years resisting environmental regulations. At least four have direct ties to organizations led by Charles G. and the late David H. Koch, who have spent millions of dollars to defeat climate change and clean energy measures.

Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that many Republican administrations had brought in people from regulated industries. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring people from the private sector. But we need to make sure they are making decisions in the public interest,” she said.

The Trump administration has said it is focused on ending government overreach, and agency officials said it should be no surprise the administration has tapped people who have dealt first-hand with regulations and share President Trump’s deregulatory goals. Administration press officers added that top agency officials had spent years in public service as well as in the private sector; that all agency officials undergo ethics training; and that those who have worked for industry had signed recusal statements.

“Senior administration officials, an overwhelming majority of whom the Senate has given their advice and consent to, understand that economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

The Environmental Protection Agency

When Cleveland’s heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, it galvanized the nation and helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, the E.P.A. has tracked pollution and enacted regulations to guide clean air and water laws and reduce levels of toxic substances. The Trump administration has argued the agency’s rules have become too onerous — particularly for the fossil fuel and agriculture industries.

Andrew R. Wheeler

Head of the E.P.A.

Former fossil fuel lobbyist. Now in charge of regulating (and deregulating) industry.


As a lobbyist, Mr. Wheeler represented an electric utility, a uranium producer and, most significantly, a coal magnatewho paid Mr. Wheeler’s former lobbying firm more than $2.7 million over eight years to loosen restrictions on coal companies.


Mr. Wheeler’s job is to enforce clean air and water laws. During his tenure, he has rolled back regulations and made it easier for highly polluting coal plants to keep operating.

Peter Wright

Head of land and emergency management

Previously represented Dow Chemical in the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites. Now oversees E.P.A.’s Superfund cleanup program.


Mr. Wright spent 19 years as an attorney at Dow, one of the world’s largest chemical makers. He fought to lessen Dow’s responsibility to contribute to the cleanup of a toxic waste site in Midland, Mich.


Mr. Wright oversees the E.P.A.’s ongoing cleanup of thousands of Superfund sites, as well as emergency response and waste programs.

Anne Idsal

Head of air office

Former attorney at Texas environment agencies that fought federal regulations. Now oversees regulations that limit air pollution at the E.P.A.


Ms. Idsal worked at Texas state agencies that sued the E.P.A. over a plan to reduce air pollution in the state and require new controls on coal-fired power plants. In 2017 she told the Texas Observer she wasn’t sure whether humans had an effect on climate change.


As head of E.P.A.’s air office, Ms. Idsal now oversees decisions on regulating air pollution and climate change, including whether to impose controls on coal-fired power plants.

Alexandra Dapolito-Dunn

Head of chemical safety

Former attorney and law professor at nonpartisan state environmental organizations and universities. Now oversees chemical regulations at the E.P.A.


Ms. Dapolito-Dunn spent several years working in nonpartisan organizations focused on the environment, including as executive director and general counsel for the Environmental Council of the States and the Association of Clean Water Administrators.


Under Ms. Dapolito-Dunn, the E.P.A. has decided not to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to impaired brain development in children, and has proposed new restrictions on asbestos that agency scientists said did not go far enough.

Nancy B. Beck

Principal deputy head of chemical safety

Previously worked in the chemical industry against regulations of chemicals. Now in charge of chemical regulations (though currently in a temporary position at the White House).


Ms. Beck ran the E.P.A.’s chemical office for the first two years of the Trump administration but is now temporarily at the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Before joining the E.P.A., she served at the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies to weaken regulations on chemicals.


At the E.P.A., Ms. Beck pushed to weaken rules on toxic chemicals like the pesticide chlorpyrifos, as well as the review process for other toxic substances like the paint stripper ingredient methylene chloride. David Fischer is filling in for her at the E.P.A. while she advises the White House.

David Fischer

Deputy head of chemical safety

Previously helped chemical companies navigate chemical safety laws. Now oversees federal implementation of chemical safety laws.


Mr. Fischer held several positions over a 10-year span at the American Chemistry Council, including serving as senior director in the chemical products and technology division. He later joined a public relations firm.


Mr. Fischer has stepped into Ms. Beck’s previous E.P.A. role during her temporary move to the White House, and is now a top policy adviser on chemical regulations.

David Ross

Head of the water office

Previously sued to block an E.P.A. clean water rule. Now runs the Office of Water.


Mr. Ross represented industry clients like the American Farm Bureau against E.P.A. water regulations before entering state government. As an assistant attorney general of Wyoming, he challenged the E.P.A.’s clean water rule.


Mr. Ross has led efforts to restrict the scope of the Clean Water Act and to weaken an Obama-era clean water regulation known as the Waters of the United States.

Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta

Head of research and development

A career E.P.A. scientist, who now serves as E.P.A.’s top science adviser.


Dr. Orme-Zavaleta has been with the E.P.A. since 1981, working with Republican and Democratic administrations on a range of issues including water pollution and chemical exposure risk.


Her office is in charge of a proposed new regulation that would restrict the use of scientific studies the E.P.A. can usewhen creating or modifying pollution regulations.

David Dunlap

Deputy head of science policy

Former chemicals expert for Koch Industries. Now oversees federal research on toxic chemicals that will determine if more regulations are required.


Mr. Dunlap previously served as a policy chief at Koch Industries, focusing on water and chemical management. Earlier, he served as a vice president of the Chlorine Institute, which represents producers and distributors.


Mr. Dunlap is the top political deputy overseeing E.P.A.’s pollution and toxic chemical research at the Office of Research and Development. Mr. Dunlap helps to review chemicals to determine if they require new restrictions. He has recused himself from work on one particular chemical, formaldehyde, because Koch Industries is a major formaldehyde producer.

Department of the Interior

The Interior Department manages more than 500 million acres of land and 1.7 billion acres of ocean floor, as well as the plants and animals living there and the oil, gas and other minerals that lie below. Under the Trump administration, the agency has removed regulatory obstacles to fossil fuel development.

David Bernhardt

Head of the Department of the Interior

Former lobbyist for oil, gas and farming interests. Now oversees all federal land and natural resource use.


Former lobbyist for oil and gas companies including Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.


Mr. Bernhardt leads the Interior Department, overseeing millions of acres of federal land and waterways. Under his tenure, the agency has weakened protections for endangered species, rolled back regulations on methane fought by the oil and gas industries, and weakened protections for fish in order to divert water to California farmers.

Douglas W. Domenech

Oversees oceans, coasts and American territories

Previously worked as an oil lobbyist and on lawsuits to weaken environmental policies. Now oversees policy decisions over oceans and in U.S. territories.


Mr. Domenech was the director of the Fueling Freedom Project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded group that promotes fossil fuels. Before that, he was the secretary of natural resources in Virginia, where he supported oil drilling off the state’s coastline.


Mr. Domenech has been closely involved in most major policy decisions at the Interior Department, including scaling back national monuments in Utah and reversing endangered species protections.

William P. Pendley

Acting chief, Bureau of Land Management

A conservative attorney who has advocated selling off public lands. Now oversees 250 million acres of public lands.


Mr. Pendley has long been critical of public lands and the environmental movement, and has compared government regulation to tyranny. He once compared climate change to a “unicorn” because “neither exists.”


Mr. Pendley is in charge of all federal public land across 12 western states, and decides whether or not to grant leases to fossil fuel companies for oil exploration and mining. He currently is overseeing the move of the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Colorado.