EPA Administrators Now and Then

By Zac Halden

3L Student, Vermont Law School

The President has the power to appoint the administrators of the administrative agencies.[1] This power allows the President to dictate the role of the EPA by appointing an administrator that will direct the agency in a way that meets the president’s goals and expectations. The main differences between Obama’s EPA and Trump’s EPA can been seen through their selection of administrators.

President Obama selected Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator in 2013.[2] She had previously worked in EPA’s air and radiation office where she “played a key role in the administration’s efforts to address global warming as well as curb traditional pollutants.”[3] Prior to working for the EPA, McCarthy worked as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.[4] She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy.[5] McCarthy used this degree to build a career that spanned over 30 years, dedicated to working on environmental issues and coordinating public policies.[6]

President Trump nominated Scott Pruitt as his EPA Administrator in 2016.[7] Pruitt was, at the time, suing the EPA over regulations aimed at curtailing emissions and proudly stated he was “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”[8] The Senate confirmed this nomination in 2017.[9] Pruitt first worked in private practice before pursuing politics.[10] He was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate and then served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.[11] Pruitt specialized in constitutional law and federalism issues.[12] His goal is to “combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government.”[13]

The two administrators had very different backgrounds when they were appointed, and the Presidents that appointed them had equally different agendas. These facts directly influenced the role of the EPA. Specifically, the Obama administration supported regulations to further environmental policies while Trump’s administration seeks to cut regulations. Under McCarthy, the EPA was dedicated to curbing emissions and directly spoke about the effects of climate change.[14] Pruitt, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge that human activities are impacting climate change.[15] Consequently, the EPA has removed its climate change information from its website.[16] Similarly, the Obama administration worked to pass a Clean Power Plan. This plan set “state-by-state targets for carbon emissions reductions,” and offered, “flexible framework under which states may meet those targets.”[17] The new administration, rather, favors traditional sources of energy and deregulation.

President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 that called for a review of the Clean Power Plan.[18] Pruitt and the EPA complied with the order and eventually decided to repeal the Clean Power Plan.[19] The EPA is now seeking to adjust its interpretation of section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the section that the Clean Power Plan is based on.[20] The new interpretation will effectively repeal the Obama plan.

Another major change that will likely hit the EPA will come in way of funding.[21] As a candidate, Trump promised to eliminate environmental protection “in almost every form.”[22] President Trump’s budget proposal seeks to make serious financial cuts to the EPA’s budget.[23] He has proposed cutting about $2.6 billion from the budget and eventually eliminating 3,200 EPA positions.[24] This proposes to cut 31% of the agencies funding.[25] These cuts will eliminate major regional programs, diminishing grants, and slash Superfund cleanup funding.[26] The EPA will also have significant limitations in prosecuting polluters with Pruitt’s directives and limited budget. The budget cuts will most significantly impact the “low-income, minority, and indigenous communities” who bear “disproportionate environmental burdens.”[27]

In the end, President Trump campaigned on the idea of reducing environmental protections to “little tidbits.”[28] He appointed Scott Pruitt, who made a career of opposing the federal government, as administrator of the EPA to meet this goal. Subsequently, Pruitt has changed the face of the EPA by rolling back Obama-era protections and changing the EPA’s directives. Trump has also proposed drastic reduction to the EPA budget, which, if passed, will effectively leave only “tidbits” of the organization that once improved environmental protections under Obama.

[1] U.S. Const. art. 2.

[2] Juliet Eilperin, Senate Confirms Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator, The Washington Post (Jul. 18, 2013) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2013/07/18/senate-confirms-gina-mccarthy-as-next-epa-administrator-in-59-to-40-vote/?utm_term=.ab8f30fb6923

[3] Id.

[4] Administrator Gina McCarthy 2013-2017, EPA (last visited Jan. 17, 2018) https://archive.epa.gov/epa/history/administrator-gina-mccarthy-2013-2017.html

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis, and Steven Mufson, Trump Names Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General Suing EPA on Climate Change, to Head the EPA, The Washington Post (Dec. 8, 2016) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/07/trump-names-scott-pruitt-oklahoma-attorney-general-suing-epa-on-climate-change-to-head-the-epa/?utm_term=.4a5475477366

[8] Id.

[9] EPA’s Administrator Scott Pruitt, EPA (last visited Jan. 17, 2018) https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/epas-administrator

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Climate Change, EPA (last visited Jan. 17, 2018) https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climatechange_.html

[15] Diona Chiacu and Valerie Volcovici, EPA Chief Pruitt Refuses to Link CO2 and Global Warming, Scientific American (last visited Jan. 17, 2017) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/epa-chief-pruitt-refuses-to-link-co2-and-global-warming/

[16] See https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics (No reference to climate change).

[17] The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer, UCSUSA (last visited Jan. 17, 2018) https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/reduce-emissions/what-is-the-clean-power-plan#.Wl-lQLynHcs.

[18] Complying with President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence, EPA (last visited Jan. 17, 2017) https://www.epa.gov/energy-independence

[19] Electric Utility Generating Units: Repealing the Clean Power Plan: Proposal, EPA (last visited Jan. 17, 2017) https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/electric-utility-generating-units-repealing-clean-power-plan-0

[20] Id.; See also 42 U.S.C. § 7411 (d) (directing the development of emission standards for pollutants emitted by existing sources).

[21] See Environmental Protection Agency, FY 2018 EPA Budget in Brief, 8–9 (2018) (showing the differences between Trump’s proposed budget and past budgets).

[22] Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, EPA Remains Top Target with Trump Administration Proposing 31 percent Budget Cut, The Washington Post (May 23, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/22/epa-remains-top-target-with-trump-administration-proposing-31-percent-budget-cut/?utm_term=.96be6d430960

[23] Mark Fahey and Nick Wells, Comparing Trump’s Budget Changes to Previous Presidents’, CNBC (Mar. 17, 2017) https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/17/comparing-trumps-budget-changes-to-previous-presidents.html

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, How Scott Pruitt Turned the EPA into one of Trump’s Most Powerful Tools, The Washington Post (Dec. 31, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/under-scott-pruitt-a-year-of-tumult-and-transformation-at-epa/2017/12/26/f93d1262-e017-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.1b56af71e774

[27] Trump Wants to Kill the EPA’s Environmental Justice Program, NRDC (Jun. 1, 2017) https://www.nrdc.org/trump-watch/trump-wants-kill-epas-environmental-justice-program

[28] Dennis, supra note 20.