Ostensibly concerned about the environment but most certainly concerned they will lose their jobs, employees of the Environmental Protection Agency are mobilizing to oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt on Friday as head of the EPA.
John O’Grady, president of the union representing the EPA’s 15,000 employees, barked, “Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to EPA . . . At this point, it’s just, ‘call your senator.’ We plan on more demonstrations, more rallies. I think you will see the employees’ union reaching out to NGOs and having alliances with them. We’re looking at working with PR firms.” The union has emailed senators as well as posted Facebook and Twitter messages to urge them to reject Pruitt; last week Chicago EPA employees held an anti-Pruitt protest.
It appears their efforts will fail; Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia have stated they will vote for Pruitt, while the only GOP senator who has announced her opposition is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
What has Pruitt done to trigger such hatred? According to The Boston Globe:
Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, has sued the EPA at least 14 times, often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations. He has questioned human-caused global warming and is a key architect of the national legal effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies. He has harshly criticized the role of the federal agency, saying much of its authority should be dissolved and left to the states.
Nicole Cantello, an EPA lawyer who runs the union in the Chicago area, said: “It seems like Trump and Pruitt want a complete reversal of what EPA has done. I don’t know if there’s any other agency that’s been so reviled. So it’s in our interests to do this.”
Why can’t President Trump simply fire the employees, as President Reagan did in August of 1981 when he fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work?
Civil Service rules impede such an action, meaning the employees will likely still be there after Pruitt’s expected confirmation. Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator during the first term of President George W. Bush, noted, “What it means is that it’s going to be a bloodbath when Pruitt gets in there.” She added that Pruitt would have a difficult time firing employees but could shift them to different jobs.
One possible result of the impasse could be the White House and Congress collaborating to change Civil Service rules. Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s environmental transition team, warned, “The Civil Service is supposed to be a class of experts implementing policy, regardless of politics. If they have now become a special interest group pleading their own agenda, then it is probably time to look at reforming the Civil Service laws.”
Jeffrey Holmstead, a senior EPA official in the George W. Bush administration, said of Pruitt, “We know that he’ll dismantle Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, but he’s not going to go in there and start firing people.”
“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to EPA."
On Friday morning, Democrats demanded the Senate postpone the vote on Pruitt until 3,000 emails related to his communications with the oil and gas sector are made public. Pruitt has been ordered by a judge to turn the emails over by Tuesday. Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said the vote on Friday afternoon would be held as scheduled.