Who's who at the EPA? Latest staff picks continue alarming trend.

Jeremy Symons

Editor’s note: This post was updated Oct. 6, 2017

In President Trump’s Washington, polluter lobbyists are grabbing control of decisions that affect the health of our children and families.

Their goal: To deregulate and weaken laws and standards that protect our health, environment and a broad range of public services Americans have long taken for granted.

The increasingly crowded playground of industry power brokers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fits a broader pattern of presidential appointees with deep conflicts of interest with companies to which they have close ties, as uncovered by The New York Times and ProPublica.

Their influence extends well beyond Scott Pruitt, the controversial head of the EPA who has been working closely with industry to roll back dozens of the agency’s life-saving standards, often bypassing its own experts.

A growing list of polluter lobbyists are now waiting in the wings to take charge of day-to-day operations at the agency. Here are the latest three examples:

1. Coal lobbyist tapped as EPA deputy

As expected, Trump nominated a well-known coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, as EPA’s deputy and second in command. Wheeler is a top lobbyist for Murray Energy, a coal mining giant that backed Trump in the election and gave $300,000 to his inauguration.

Murray Energy is a long-time friend of Pruitt, too. The company has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pruitt-affiliated political action committees and joined him on six lawsuits against the EPA.

These legal attacks set the stage for Pruitt’s current efforts to roll back standards that protect communities and families from smog and carbon pollution, toxic mercury and other health threats.

2. Industry’s hired gun chosen for toxics office 

From tobacco to toxic chemicals, Michael Dourson has long been industry’s go-to man to downplay concerns about the safety of their products. He was nominated to lead the EPA toxics office charged with ensuring the safety of many of the same chemicals he defended.

Unsurprisingly, he faced some tough questions during his October 4 confirmation hearing.

3. Oil lobby man becomes top EPA lawyer

The oil industry has one of its own in the EPA’s legal office with the appointment of Erik Baptist as the agency’s senior deputy general counsel. Baptist was previously a top lawyer at the American Petroleum Institute, which has been lobbying, among other things, to repeal regulations that reduce harmful methane pollution from oil and gas operations.

With more foxes joining Pruitt, no environmental law or program is safe.

While most companies in America readily comply with clean air, clean water and other common-sense standards, some deep-pocketed laggards are leading the charge to roll back protections. 

They’re part of a plan coming from the very top to quietly tear down decades of environmental progress, as Rolling Stone magazine put it in a recent article. As head of the EPA, Pruitt simply wants the agency to fail.

“If there was ever an example of the fox guarding the henhouse, this is it,” Michael Mann, a noted climate scientist at Penn State University, told the magazine. “We have a Koch-brothers-connected industry shill who is now in charge of climate and environmental policy for the entire country.”

With more foxes joining Pruitt, no environmental law or program is safe from the damage they will try to inflict.

Given the entangled web of conflicts of interest among Trump’s EPA appointees, Congress has an added responsibility to conduct oversight and guard against extremism. And yet members of both parties appear to be distracted, disinterested or timid in the face of the power grab happening at the EPA.

If ever there was a time for a public outcry, it’s now.

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