The narrative on the Trump White House used to be that it was so chaotic, so out of control, so poorly led that nothing was getting done in America.
Frontline, the long-running PBS show, has put together an hour-long documentary on EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the swift and decisive changes he has brought to the agency.
“War on the EPA” describes in detail the frustration agency staff has had in trying to convince Pruitt not to do what he was hired to do –to upend 30 years of a culture that produced opaque, counterproductive regulation.
With the documentary and accompanying stories, Frontline tries to make the case that the country is in danger because the administrator does not take the advice of his career staff. In one, it interviewed Betsy Southerland, who recently retired from the EPA Water Office, about the exit letter she wrote when she left, which “criticized the agency for moving to repeal regulations backed by years of scientific study.”
“It’s just a mystery as to how you can persuade (Pruitt) not to follow exactly what industry asks him to do and instead be accommodating to the facts of the case,” she told interviewers.
Political appointees don’t communicate with career staffers about upcoming decisions, which leaves staffers “flying blind” in many cases.
“What everyone is trying to do is to hope against hope that their facts will change Scott Pruitt’s mind … that they’ll be special and they’ll be able to convince the administrator not to go with whatever the industry people have asked him to do and to give some deference to the science and engineering behind previous regulations.”
She argued one rule – to reduce toxic waste into water from coal-fired plants – should go forward because only 15 percent of coal plants would incur costs. The Small Business Administration says dozens of plants serving millions of Americans would have to close to comply with the rule as written.
When Trump directed federal agencies to suggest regulations to be replaced, repealed or modified, 470,000 public comments came into the EPA. The electric power industry seized on some of the suggestions, which Southerland was asked to review.
“In every case, I can tell you, we responded, ‘No, the rules should not be repealed because there is no flaw in the process by which that rule was promulgated, and there’s no technical error in that rule that would mean it should be repealed,” she said.