The Mood Inside the Environmental Protection Agency: ‘Somber’

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the future of the EPA is uncertain.
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In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the future of the EPA is uncertain.

Following the election of Donald Trump, who, as my colleague Francie Diepnoted, “promised to ‘get rid of [the Environmental Protection Agency] in almost every form,’” the federal agency’s top leader, Administrator Gina McCarthy, seems committed to accomplishing as much as she can before handing the reins to Trump’s appointee. The morning after the election, in a staff-wide memorandum obtained by Pacific Standard, she wrote:

With the election now over, I wanted to take a quick moment to touch base with all of you about next steps. While this is always a time of reflection for our country, it is also a time to renew our agency’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment. It is always important to remember that the work we do as an agency and our core mission reflect the values of the public we serve, and that will always be the case.

Whether it’s creating new standards to address climate change or protect the air we breathe, enhance support for programs that detect and reduce water pollutants, or extend our outreach efforts to local communities, everything we have accomplished together has served to advance our important mission of protecting public health and our precious natural resources. We should all be proud of the accomplishments we have made together over the past eight years while keeping in mind the work we need to complete in the weeks ahead that is so important to both EPA’s mission and the legacy of this Administration.

President Obama has made it clear that a seamless transition is one of his top priorities, and I share his goal. Soon, you will receive an email from Matt Fritz about next steps. As many of you know, we have a process in place at EPA to make sure this transition runs smoothly and seamlessly.

I look forward to continuing our momentum together. As I’ve mentioned to you before, we’re running — not walking — through the finish line of President Obama’s presidency. Thank you for taking that run with me. I’m looking forward to all the progress that still lies ahead.

Email sent to the EPA staffers on Wednesday.

Email sent to the EPA staffers on Wednesday.

At one of the agency’s major regional offices, an employee reportsa sense of unease rippling among rank-and-file employees about where this sprint willleave them once Trump’s transitional leader, “climate skeptic” Myron Ebell, assumes power (according to Politico, he’s considered the top choice for taking over).

“The mood is fucking somber,” says an employee at the agency, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “People look shell shocked. Our director came around and gave us all a pep talk….”

If we are to judge by the limited policy positions Trump has publicly listed on his campaign website, the EPA can expect to see a major transformation, with the elimination of one of its major rules: the Clean Power Plan.

“Trump is just such a wildcard who knows what he’ll try to do,” the source said. “Who knows what the budget will look like. Might be lots of fired people.”

In the days and months leading up to the election, people remained quiet at the office because of the Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from influencing votes. “But the election’s over and life is a shit storm so pretty sure we can talk about it now,” the source says, describing Trump’s transitional leader as a “climate change denier” and the proposed notion of dismantling the agency as “catastrophic.”

In an interview yesterday with National Geographic, Ebell refused to provide any specifics on potential changes at the agency, referring instead back to his boss’ on-the-record statements on “increased fossil fuel development” and distaste for the current administration’s climate change initiatives. “[Trump] has made several promises, several times over, about energy and climate, and I think they’re pretty clear,” Ebell told National Geographic. “It’s pretty black and white.”

Last night, in an email, Ebell referred Pacific Standard to Rick Dearborn, the chief of staff of Alabama senator and Trump advisor Jeff Sessions, noting that the “communications team isn’t in place yet.” “Once they are,” he wrote, “I expect they will develop procedures and practices for dealing with press enquiries.”