Trump EPA failing at its mission, say four former agency bosses

Rep. Diana DeGette: “I hope the administration was watching” the Tuesday hearing

Rep. Diana DeGette at a candidate forum in Denver in October 2018. (Photo by Rachel Lorenz for The Colorado Independent)
Rep. Diana DeGette at a candidate forum in Denver in October 2018. (Photo by Rachel Lorenz for The Colorado Independent)

WASHINGTON —  Four former heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday blasted the Trump administration’s management of the agency, a show of unanimity Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette called “extraordinary.”

The former EPA chiefs — who led the agency under Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Obama — said the administration runs the risk of harming the environment and public health for years to come.

They warned that EPA officials are abandoning the agency’s mission, ignoring science, pushing out career employees, and silencing information about climate change.

The former administrators testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which DeGette chairs.

“It is really extraordinary and not very frequent where we have four former … administrators of one agency, spanning from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, and they all agree on what the mission should be for this agency, to protect public health. And they also agree the agency really needs to redouble its effort and redouble its commitment to science,” Degette said at the conclusion of the hearing. “I hope the administration was watching.”

The former EPA administrators called on Congress to assert its oversight authority and try to return EPA to its mission to protect public health and the environment.

“I’m here for one reason and one reason only. And it’s not to weep about all my precious rules being rolled back, though I admit that the constant roll-back is beginning to tick me off a bit, maybe more than a bit,” said Gina McCarthy, who was EPA administrator under President Obama.

“I’m here to remind the political leadership at the EPA that what they do matters, and it’s time for them to step up and do their jobs. Just do your jobs. Right now this administration is trying to systematically undo health protections by running roughshod over the law.”

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and EPA chief for George W. Bush, said she is “deeply concerned that five decades of environmental progress are at risk because of the attitude and approach of the current administration.”

The former administrators said current EPA leadership has ignored scientists, buried information on climate change and rolled back regulations to favor industry.

“I am tired of hearing decisions being made where we solely talk about how much it has reduced manufacturer’s cost. That is not the mission of the agency,” said McCarthy.

In April, seven former EPA administrators sent a letter to the committee, asking for more oversight of the agency. Concerned about the direction of the agency, 350 EPA alumni formed an association, the Environmental Protection Network, to keep tabs on the changes at the agency.

McCarthy called on the committee to use its oversight authority to question EPA, particularly regarding whether the agency is including career staff in decision-making and protecting scientists from political interference.

“I, for one, am here to implore the subcommittee to use its authority to ensure that EPA is focused on its mission,” McCarthy said.

The hearing comes as EPA faces multiple controversies. Former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned last summer amid ethics scandals, and the agency has come under fire for proposed rules changes.

The Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler earlier this year as EPA administrator. Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist with years of experience in political posts at the agency.

The Trump administration has also come under scrutiny for its treatment of science at EPA. Agency officials sparred with scientists on its own board of science advisers recently over what kinds of studies the agency should take into account when considering new regulations.  

Lee Thomas, who was  EPA administrator under President Reagan, questioned the current EPA’s commitment to science.

“Does the agency have adequate resources with the strong scientific capability it needs? Is it seeking input from key scientific advisory committees?” Thomas said. “Is it coordinating actively with the broad scientific community on research surrounding environmental issues? I don’t think they do.”

Meanwhile, career employees have been leaving the EPA in droves — at least 1,800 of them since Trump took office, according to the witnesses. McCarthy said there is an “erosion of morale” among agency employees because of the “hostility of EPA leadership to its own mission.”

The Trump administration has also proposed deep spending cuts for the agency, which have consistently been rebuffed by Congress.

Whitman warned that agency officials have tried to silence information on climate change and intimidate scientists at the agency, who are afraid to speak out. Scientists have been told they can’t participate in various meetings or mention climate change in reports, Whitman said.

“From what I have heard from people still there, the idea is the best thing is to keep your head down, if you have something you believe is contrary to where the administration wants to see the agency go,” said Whitman. “You have to be very careful with how you come forward with it, if you do at all. This is not healthy, not good for the environment at the agency itself and not good for us getting transparency.”

Wheeler, who was not at the hearing, on Tuesday tweeted a link to a news article stating that EPA has cut 40 major regulations since Trump took office and plans to cut another 49. “We are definitely at the top” of regulation killers, he was quoted saying.


  1. The worst Environmental disaster in Colorado history happened under the Obama administration in 2015. How dare Degette and other democrats make any negative comment about President Trump when they caused the problem and refuse to pay reparations to the thousands of people permanently affected by the Obama EPA’s negligence.

    2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill
    Animas River spill 2015-08-06.JPG
    The Animas River between Silverton and Durango within 24 hours of the spill. The river turned yellow from the oxidation of dissolved iron in the escaped waste water.[1]
    Date August 5, 2015
    Location Gold King Mine
    Silverton, Colorado, United States
    Coordinates 37°53′40″N 107°38′18″WCoordinates: 37°53′40″N 107°38′18″W
    Cause Accidental waste water release, approx. 3 million US gal (11,000 m3)
    Participants Environmental Protection Agency
    Outcome River closures (until about Aug 17 with ongoing tests)
    Ongoing water supply & irrigation issues
    Waterways affected Animas and San Juan rivers
    States affected Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah
    Website EPA updates
    Gold King Mine is located in ColoradoGold King MineGold King Mine
    Spill site shown within Colorado
    The 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill was an environmental disaster that began at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado,[2] when Environmental Protection Agency personnel, along with workers for Environmental Restoration LLC (a Missouri company under EPA contract to mitigate pollutants from the closed mine), caused the release of toxic waste water into the Animas River watershed. They caused the accident while attempting to drain ponded water near the entrance of the mine on August 5.[3] After the spill, the Silverton Board of Trustees and the San Juan County Commission approved a joint resolution seeking Superfund money.

    Contractors accidentally destroyed the plug holding water trapped inside the mine, which caused an overflow of the pond, spilling three million US gallons (eleven thousand cubic metres) of mine waste water and tailings, including heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, and other toxic elements, such as arsenic,[5] beryllium,[5] zinc,[5] iron[5] and copper[5] into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River and part of the San Juan River and Colorado River watershed.[6] The EPA was criticized for not warning Colorado and New Mexico about the operation until the day after the waste water spilled, despite the fact the EPA employee “in charge of Gold King Mine knew of blowout risk.”

    The EPA has taken responsibility for the incident, but refused to pay for any damages claims filed after the accident on grounds of sovereign immunity, pending special authorization from Congress or re-filing of lawsuits in federal court.[8] Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper declared the affected area a disaster zone. The spill affected waterways of municipalities in the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, as well as the Navajo Nation. It is estimated that acidic water spilled at a rate of 500–700 US gal/min (1.9–2.6 m3/min) while remediation efforts were underway.[9] The event drew attention to toxic drainage from many similar abandoned mines throughout the country.[10][11]

  2. Another anti -Trump piece I’m shocked I tell you Shocked! We deplorable are going to develop an “Inferiority ” complex if this keeps up for another 6 yrs!

  3. Does anyone listen to what Pat Schroeder lite has to say? Remember her Hi cap “Clips” theory? The white Sheila Jackson Lee….dumb as a dishrag

  4. I thought I asked very politely to ignore my post’s as I did not want to trade insult’s with you.
    Is it too much to ask? Kind of a live and let live sorta’ deal?

  5. I don’t remember that. It’s against my policy to allow unfettered passage for trolls anyhow so I can’t imagine I would have agreed regardless. Why do you think Comrade Don doesn’t post much anymore.

    Nothing personal, but the bridges get fumigated here.

  6. Please your goal is to only insult those who disagree with you. I only ask that you ignore me leave me out of it…I.m old, and don’t know what a troll or “fumigate ” a bridge means.

  7. Clue: Not being a racist troll will get you left alone. Comrade Don posts politely now, which once was far from the case.. Take a page from his book and leave the hate at home.

  8. OK Have it your way. I get the feeling you think your kind of hate is OK Recall the exchange with Chip in Florida..
    Be careful with your hate and rage might get you in some real trouble some day. I’m for the most part trying to have a little fun.. I think I’ve earned it (101st Airborne Viet Nam 1969-70)

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