Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the Environmental Protection Agency over the years. Two decades ago, in his book The Art of the Comeback, he mounted a furious defense of asbestos, and in the first year of his presidency, Trump has appointed a handful of zealots to lead the agency. Most notable among them is Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma who repeatedly sued the EPA in his old job and now likes to cozy up with the industry executives he’s supposed to be regulating.
It turns out that Trump is not just damaging the EPA by appointing people hell-bent on its destruction. He’s also driving away people who want the agency to succeed. All told, more than 700 people have left the agency since Trump took office and most of them aren’t being replaced, according to the Times. At the start of December, the agency had 14,188 full-time employees, nearly 3,000 fewer than it had at the end of President Obama’s first year in office.
Among those departing the agency are lawyers, program managers, and environmental-protection specialists, along with 200 scientists.
More than 27 percent of those who left this year were scientists, including 34 biologists and microbiologists; 19 chemists; 81 environmental engineers and environmental scientists; and more than a dozen toxicologists, life scientists and geologists. Employees say the exodus has left the agency depleted of decades of knowledge about protecting the nation’s air and water.
The Times spoke to two former, and one current, EPA employees who have all seen a lack of morale at the agency as its ranks are depleted. “This is exactly what they wanted, which is my biggest misgiving about leaving,” Ronnie B. Levin, a 37-year EPA vet who worked on lead-exposure issues, told the paper. “They want the people there to be more docile and nervous and less invested in the agency.”
And they want the depletion to continue. The administration’s goal is to cut 3,200 positions from the agency and they have a plan for making that happen, by tying the hands of enforcement officers, silencing scientists, and probing the emails of dissenting employees, all while Pruitt spends lavishly on himself.