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Monday, March 13, 2017

Environment - Ruckelshaus on his return to U.S. EPA in 1983

This Jan. 31st ILB post related Indiana's Williasm Ruckelshaus' taking the job of U.S. EPA head a second time, in 1983, after Reagan's dismissal of Anne Gorsuch Burford, who (quoting the Denver Post):

... was Environmental Protection Agency director for the Reagan administration for 22 months. She slashed the agency’s budget and resigned under fire in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps.
Last week Mr. Ruckelshaus, in a long op-ed the NY Times, wrote of "A Lesson Trump and the E.P.A. Should Heed." Some quotes:
In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan asked me to return to Washington to run the Environmental Protection Agency. I had been the E.P.A.’s first administrator, from 1970 to 1973, and over the agency’s first 10 years, it made enormous progress in bringing the country’s worst pollution problems under control despite resistance from polluting industries and their lobbyists. A worried and outraged public had demanded action, and the government responded.

Yet the agency and its central mission came under attack during the 1980 presidential campaign. The Clean Air Act was criticized as an obstacle to growth. The agency was seen as bloated, inefficient, exceeding its congressional mandates and costing jobs. The Reagan administration and its new administrator were going to fix that. Sound familiar?

The E.P.A. I returned to in the spring of 1983, some 28 months into President Reagan’s first term, was dispirited and in turmoil. Its administrator, Anne M. Gorsuch, had been cited for contempt of Congress. Its budget had been reduced by almost 25 percent, with more cuts promised. Staffing had been slashed. * * *

While I awaited Senate confirmation hearings that April, several chemical industry chief executives asked to meet with me. I expected to hear complaints that over-regulation was stifling economic growth, just as I had heard 10 years earlier.

Instead, I was stunned by their message. The public, they told me, was spooked about the turmoil at E.P.A. Americans didn’t believe anything was being done to protect their health and the environment. They didn’t believe the E.P.A., and they didn’t believe the chemical industry. These executives had concluded that they needed a confident, fair and independent E.P.A. They knew that an environmental agency trusted by the public to do its job gave their businesses a public license to operate. * * *

Our collective freedom and well-being depends on a set of restraints that govern society and how it operates. Those restraints need to be clear and effective. They were not in 1983.

The E.P.A.’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, comes to his job with this historical backdrop. Are there changes that can be made to improve how the agency operates? Certainly. But those changes can never be seen as undercutting or abandoning the E.P.A.’s basic mission. That was the mistake made during the early Reagan years and why I was asked to return.

One of the factors leading to the creation of E.P.A. was the recognition that without a set of federal standards to protect public health from environmental pollution, states would continue to compete for industrial development by taking short cuts on environmental protection. The laws that the E.P.A. administers create a strong federal-state partnership that has worked well for over 40 years. The federal government sets the standards and the states enforce them, with the E.P.A. stepping in only if the states default on their responsibilities.

In contrast, see this March 9th Washington Post story by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, headed "On climate change, Scott Pruitt causes an uproar — and contradicts the EPA’s own website." It begins:
Scott Pruitt, the nation’s top environmental official, strongly rejected the established science of climate change on Thursday, outraging scientists, environmentalists, and even his immediate predecessor at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt, the newly installed EPA administrator, said on the CNBC program “Squawk Box.”

“But we don’t know that yet,” he continued. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

His comments represented a startling statement for an official so high in the U.S. government, putting him at odds not only with other countries around the globe but also with the official scientific findings of the agency he now leads. President Trump in the past has called the notion of human-fueled climate change a hoax. And other cabinet members, including Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, have previously questioned the scientific basis for combating global warming.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 13, 2017 09:16 AM
Posted to Environment