WASHINGTON (CN) – Republican and Democrat alike, four former EPA administrators testified Tuesday before Congress that they are fearful for the public health as the Trump administration deregulates longstanding environmental policies and pares back the agency’s research on climate change.
“I’m here for one reason only,” Gina McCarthy, former EPA head under President Barack Obama told members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “It’s not to weep about all of my precious rules being rolled back, though I admit that the constant rollback is beginning to tick me off. 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.”
According to ongoing analysis by Harvard Law School, the Trump administration to date has targeted roughly 80 environmental rules. Among the 49 successfully withdrawn were policies aimed at limiting air and water pollution, protecting endangered species, and reducing pollution from toxic substances. Thirty-four rollbacks are in progress.
“I’m concerned they are paying lip service to transparency and disclosure,” McCarthy said. “I’m concerned they are limiting science and dismantling climate expert panels at a time when that expertise is needed most. There’s little potential for public input; they won’t let academic scientists onto science advisory boards or expert panels. We’re throwing out the rules of the road that have given us stability and taught the industry how to rely on what we enforce.”
McCarthy’s comments came just three days after The Washington Post reported that the White House had stopped State Department intelligence analyst Ronald Schoonover from submitting written testimony to Congress warning that manmade climate change is “possibly catastrophic.”
The EPA has hemorrhaged more than 1,600 career employees since Trump took office, and last month, at the administration’s behest, members of the agency’s Science Advisory Board receiving grant funding were abruptly stopped from serving on the board.
They were replaced with Trump-appointed members who largely share the view of the president: manmade climate change is a hoax.
Under the purview of Trump-appointed EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, the same advisory board has now failed to review repeals on regulations of methane, oil and gas emissions. It has marched ahead with the proposed Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, which would bar the evaluation of public health studies containing confidential data.
Christine Todd Whitman, a onetime EPA administrator under Republican President George W. Bush, said the proposal would vastly undercut the field of available scientific research.
“Five decades of progress are at risk because of the Trump administration,” Whitman said. “Agencies are retreating from science. … The erosion of morale at the EPA, the hospitality of EPA leadership to its own is missing, and it is driving people out and keeping new people away. This is wrong. It’s wrong for the agency, for the environment and public health. It skews policy making away from EPA mission.”
The climate change impact to the world’s oceans stands out in particular, the former administrator added.
She said coral bleaching, increased acidification and dead zones, widespread marine disease all threaten both the integrity of the sea and life on earth as well.
Urging Congress to conduct broad oversight of the EPA’s actions and directions, Whitman said lawmakers must also look into deregulatory environmental policies unfolding at the Agriculture, Energy and Interior Departments.
“Throughout the entire administration, there’s an attitude that ‘we don’t want to talk about climate change,’” Whitman said. “This will hamper our ability to truly look at the science. We’re not going to stop climate change. But we need to know how to slow it down and how to prepare for it.”
Lee Thomas, EPA administrator under President Ronald Reagan, agreed.
“The EPA must understand that it must work hard with scientists, both internal and external, and ensure that they are heard in the decision making process,” Thomas said. “It is critical that the agency and regulative communities have confidence. Morale flows from the top.”
William Reilly, EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush, urged critics to come to a realization about the role the U.S. and other nations play in combating climate change.
“China may be the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, and we’re No. 2, but when we dealt with atmospheric ozone in my day, the Chinese were preparing to produce 100 million refrigerators all containing CFCs, blowing away all of the progress we had,” Riley said. “But the EPA was a key factor in dissuading them from doing that. We did it all through our own solid reputation on science validity.”