Donald Trump 'taking steps to abolish Environmental Protection Agency'
Arthur Neslen in Brussels – Wednesday 1 February 2017 20.13 EST
Donald Trump will work towards the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency – and any employees cleaving to the Obama era should be “very worried” by the prospect of Scott Pruitt taking over the agency, a key aide of the president has told the Guardian.
In an exclusive interview, Myron Ebell – who headed up Trump’s EPA transition team, said that agency’s environmental research, reports and data would not be removed from its website, but climate education material might be changed or “withdrawn”.
Ebell also signalled that a review of fuel efficiency standards for cars, rushed through by the departing Obama administration, is likely to be reopened despite its contribution to the US’s pledged emissions cuts in the Paris agreement.
A campaign stump pledge by Trump to scrap the EPA in its entirety was “an aspirational goal” that would be best achieved by incremental demolition rather than an executive order, according to Ebell.
“To abolish an agency requires not only thought but time because you have to decide what to do with certain functions that Congress has assigned to that agency,” he said.
“President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA or ‘leave a little bit’. It is a goal he has and sometimes it takes a long time to achieve goals. You can’t abolish the EPA by waving a magic wand.”
The EPA was created in 1970 to protect human health and the environment, but Trump favours devolving much of its work and responsibilities to US states.
Ebell has previously said that two-thirds of the agency’s 15,000 engineers, scientists and researchers could be axed but not that Trump’s campaign pledge of revoking the agency itself was still an objective.
Half of the EPA’s $8.2bn (£6.47bn) budget is currently passed on to the states and it was “quite possible” that Trump would initially propose a 10% cut in federal EPA funding, Ebell said.
While he does not speak for the president, his dismissals of climate science and environmental regulation have cut with the grain at the new incumbents of the White House.
A climate action plan Ebell prepared for the incoming president outlines a strategy for withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and scrapping Obama’s signature clean power plan.
Any attempts to abolish the EPA would likely be steered by Pruitt, Trump’s nominee who has sued the agency 13 times, although Democrats boycotted his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, preventing a vote.
The former EPA chief administrator in the Bush White House, Catherine Todd Whitman, complained earlier this week that agency staff were feeling “nervous” about the arrival of Pruitt, a climate science denier who has reportedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuels industry.
“If you want to defend the status quo then you should be very worried,” Ebell said. “I expect Scott Pruitt to be a serious reformer at the EPA.”
Fears of a purge of EPA climate data, research, and reports have been fuelled by the removal of climate science material on a White House website and a “temporary hold” placed on new publications until they have been vetted by political appointees.
Ebell insisted that existing scientific webpages would be protected. “I have no doubt that they will not disappear,” he said. “I don’t think President Trump has the least interest in destroying or hiding information. But I do think that a great deal of what the EPA puts out in the way of so-called ‘climate education’ – some of the research that they’ve not necessarily done but promoted – does not meet the minimal standards legally required by the federal information quality act. It therefore needs to be changed or withdrawn.”
Ebell is the director of the ultra-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the “number one enemy of climate change alarmism”, according to his Twitter page.
He has gained notoriety for arguing that climate science is based on “a tissue of improbabilities” and his CEI has been ridiculed by Greenpeace for a video claiming that CO2 is not a pollutant.
As he arrived in Brussels to address a Blue-Green summit on Wednesday, he was jeered by scores of environmental protestors, one of whom was bundled out of the meeting after brandishing a placard saying ‘Resist’ during his speech.
Ebell has described the environmental movement as “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.”
Asked for his advice to Ebell, Greg Barker, a former climate minister under David Cameron issued a plea: “Please stop trashing experts.
“It is incredibly dangerous. We live in a very complex and integrated world and the idea that we should denigrate learning and expertise is very worrying, very dark and sinister,” Lord Barker added.
Ebell responded from the podium by accusing Barker of having “strong economic interests in this [environmental] crony capitalist regime”.
The combative stance may not have persuaded EU officials in the audience, but it has won admirers on the US “alt-right”, the far-right movement in the US who share his hostility to environmental regulation.
In a key speech in North Dakota last May, Trump lashed out at what he said were “totalitarian tactics” by the EPA, as he promised to save the US coal industry, build the Keystone XL pipeline and “cancel” the Paris climate agreement.
Doing so would mean “we will be ceding global leadership of climate policy to China,” Ebell said after the meeting. “[But] I want to get rid of global climate policy, so why do I care who is in charge of it? I don’t care. They can take it as far as I’m concerned, and good luck to them.”
A green light given to the 54.5 miles a gallon fuel efficiency standard for new automobiles might also be heading for the kerb, after the Obama administration fast-tracked a measure approving the fuel and emissions-saving rule in its last days.
Ebell said: “My view is that the mid-term review should be reopened by the Trump administration because I believe the conclusions by the Obama administration were cooked. I don’t think the facts support the conclusion that everything is [proceeding] on target, so I think they will have to reopen that.”
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