Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The US Environmental Protection Agency

As  a proud former employee (as a contractor) of the United States Environmental Protection Agency,
I was amazed, appalled, and outraged when I read the following in a Reuters news article:
  "US President Donald Trump's administration has moved since he took office last week to curb the flow of information from several government agencies involved in environmental issues, in actions that may have been designed to discourage dissenting views.  Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have seen directives from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate with the public, according to multiple sources.  The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.  All of the agencies affected by the actions have some input on issues related to the environment and have been involved in various efforts related to climate change, including the effects on natural resources and human health.
   On Tuesday (today), a source at the EPA said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media.  EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that  had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named.  Asked if the EPA had been gagged, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday: "I don't know ...  we're looking into it.  ...  I don't think it's a surprise we're going to review the policies, but I don't have any info at this time."
   The agency (EPA) also was asked by the White House on Monday to temporarily halt all contracts and grants pending a review, according to multiple sources.  The EPA awards billions of dollars worth of grants and contracts every year to support programs around environmental testing, cleanups, and research.  "EPA staff have been reviewing grants and contracts information with the incoming transition team," EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine said in a statement.  "The goal is to complete the grants and contracts review by the close of business on Friday, January 27." "
A few facts about the Environmental Protection Agency:
   The United States EPA (sometimes known as the USEPA) is an agency of the Federal government; it was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.   The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on 2 December 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order.  The order was ratified by committee hearings in both the House and Senate. The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the President and is approved by Congress.  The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is usually given cabinet rank.
    The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, DC, regional offices for each of the agency's 10 regions, and 27 laboratories. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research and education.  It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal and local governments.  It delegates some permitting, monitoring and enforcement responsibility to US states and the federally recognized tribes.  EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures.  The agency also works with industries and all  levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.
    In 2016, the EPA had 15,376 full-time employees.  More than half of the agency's human resources are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other groups include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists. (I was one of the info techs in DC...)
  ** The EPA has been criticized for its lack of progress towards environmental justice.  Administrator Christine Todd Whitman was criticized for her changes to President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12898 during 2001, removing the requirements for government agencies to take the poor and minority populations into special consideration when making changes to environmental legislation, and therefore defeating the spirit of the Executive Order.  (That's when I quit.)**
   Many issues of environmental justice are localized, and are therefore hard to be addressed by federal agencies like the EPA.  Without significant media attention, political interest, or "crisis" status, local issues are less likely to be addressed.  With a still developing sector of environmental justice under the EPA, small local incidents are unlikely to be solved compared to larger, well publicized incidents.   
the White House maintains direct control over the United States Environmental Agency, and its enforcements are subject to the political agenda of who is in power.  Democrats and Republicans differ in their approaches to, and perceived concerns of, environmental justice.  
   The EPA is responsible for preventing and detecting environmental crimes, informing the public of environmental enforcement, and setting and monitoring standards of air pollution, water pollution, hazardous wastes, and chemicals. The EPA aids in preventing and identifying hazardous situations, but with its wide range of responsibilities, it is extremely difficult to construct a specific mission statement for the agency.
   The EPA answers to various groups, it has to compete for governmental funding, and it confronts a wide array of harms to our environment, and, ultimately, us humans.  Its lack of dependable resources, and the current President's dismissal of environmental change are frightening.  We need to contact our local, state, and Congressional representatives and say that  "Enough is enough!"
   The EPA needs support and reinforcements! 

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