Trump and Pruitt Plan to Dismantle EPA Through Deep Budget Cuts, Staff Layoffs

Posted March 1, 2017

MP3 Interview with Benjamin Schreiber, senior political strategist with Friends of the Earth, conducted by Scott Harris


Among President Trump’s Cabinet appointees and staff are a long list of climate change deniers and individuals with very close ties to the fossil fuel industry. The real estate billionaire and reality TV star sent a clear message to America and the world when he chose Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a dedicated ally of the oil and gas industry to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. During his time as Oklahoma's attorney general, he’s filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA, some of which are ongoing, and he generally took a stand against many EPA air and water quality standards.

Pruitt’s nomination was approved by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 17 by a vote of 52 to 46.

During his confirmation hearing, it came to light that Pruitt had been illegally withholding some 7,500 pages of emails. When an Oklahoma judge ruled that the former attorney general must release those emails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rushed Pruitt's confirmation vote. Only after Pruitt was confirmed was it revealed to what extent his office had closely collaborated with the fossil fuel industry on legal strategies to undermine federal efforts to regulate carbon and greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

On Feb. 28, the president signed an executive order directing Pruitt and the EPA to start rolling back the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which protects water sources from pollution. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist with Friends of the Earth, who discusses his group's response to the Senate confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and how environmental groups plan to counter Trump's and Pruitt's plan to broadly dismantle EPA regulations through deep budget cuts and staff layoffs.

BEN SCHREIBER: It's pretty clear that Donald Trump installed Scott Pruitt in the EPA to dismantle the agency from within. What we've heard is that the outline of the budget that Trump has submitted calls for an increase in military spending by $54 billion and a cut of the EPA budget by 25 percent, including a 20 percent reduction in staff. So we're talking about a massive, massive cut of EPA budget, which would be $6.1 billion. We're talking about cutting a relatively small agency to boost up our defense spending. It's a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend on defense. I think the other thing that's really come to light is that in confirmation process, Scott Pruitt made it clear that he thought the EPA had the authority and the obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, and the Supreme Court has ruled as much. Basically, as soon the confirmation process was over, he gave a speech at CPAC, the conservative gathering that was happening here in Washington and he basically raised questions about whether or not the EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gases and he brought in the question what has been decided in the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs. EPA. It's pretty clear that Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt are at least going to consider ending regulation of greenhouse gases in the United States. [Rush transcript]

BETWEEN THE LINES: That would presumably result in a court fight, is that right?

BEN SCHREIBER: For sure. There will definitely be a court fight. Also, they're talking about rolling back the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's first step to regulating emissions from power plants here in the United States.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now, what about the Paris climate agreement, the international agreement that Barack Obama signed? What does it look like in terms of the Trump agenda there?

BEN SCHREIBER: Yeah, so there have been a lot rumblings that Donald Trump will actually remove the United States from the Paris climate accord. He sort of hinted as much on the campaign trail. He hasn't really made any signals about that since taking over the White House. I think there's two thoughts about this. One is that he's decided that actually it's more strategic to stay within the framework and actually dismantle it from within, and that by withdrawing, the U.S., we will no longer be parties to the agreement and he will have less influence over the overall process. So maybe that's his tactic. The other option is that he just hasn't gotten around to it yet. One thing that did happen is that the State Department announced that they're going to be sending a delegation to Bonn Intersessional (Climate Change Conference) that's coming up. So right now, the U.S. is actually moving forward as if they're going to continue to participate in the Paris process.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So Ben, as you and your colleagues and other environmental organizations around the country take stock of what the Trump administration agenda here is on the environment, what's some of the strategy that you're talking about or have actually maybe even initiated to counter what Trump is doing here?

BEN SCHREIBER: Yeah. So I think that the first thing – and he sort alluded to it before – is that if this budget passes. And this budget is not going to pass without the help of Democrats because there is an appropriations process and money for EPA will have to be appropriated. We are hoping that Senate Democrats in particular will hold a strong line and stand up for clean air and clean water. Make it clear that this budget is dead on arrival and this is not a proposal that they can support. So there are leverage points, they're out there. On budgeting, it's hard to use the courts, but on rolling back rules like the Clean Power Plan, or other important regulations. You know, the courts are available to us and Donald Trump is not a dictator, as much as he might like to be, he cannot just roll back rules and regulations without going through the proper process. So, if he does go through the proper process, it's clear that climate science is real; greenhouses gases are a problem and if the EPA is really going to follow the law and be protective of human health, it's going to have to take into account and regulate these things. And so, as he tries to avoid those obligations, the courts are available to us.

For more information, visit Friends of the Earth at

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