Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget
Posted January 26
WASHINGTON — The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts.
Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that his specific recommendations to the White House remain confidential. But Ebell, who left the transition team last week, said it was reasonable to expect the president to seek a cut of about $1 billion from the EPA's roughly $8 billion annual budget.
He also said Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce, currently about 15,000 employees nationwide, with 8,000 of those in Washington. Ebell declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell replied that slashing the agency's workforce by half would be a good start.
"President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA, or 'leave a little bit,'" said Ebell, who has returned to his position as director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.
"I think the administration is likely to start proposing cuts to the 15,000 staff, because the fact is that a huge amount of the work of the EPA is actually done by state agencies. It's not clear why so many employees are needed at the federal level," he said.
The EPA has a major research center in Research Triangle Park, employing some 2,000 people, and Triangle-area universities and non-governmental organizations receive millions in EPA grants. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, has received $44 million in grants from the agency over the last five years, while research firm RTI International has about $30 million in EPA grant funding.
Mike Walden, an economist at North Carolina State University, which has about $2 million in EPA grant funding, said more than 10,000 people in the region have jobs tied to federal contracts.
"It's a multi-billion-dollar industry here in the Triangle. A lot of it is centered around universities," Walden said. "What that does is send shivers through a lot of people who say, 'Well, is this the first sign of maybe a massive pullback by the federal government."
Representatives of RTI and area universities said it's too early to say what impact, if any, EPA cuts would have on local contracts and the research they fund.
EPA officials said in a statement that the agency "is continuing to award the environmental program grants and state revolving loan fund grants, and we're working to quickly address issues related to other categories of grants."
Walden said he believes North Carolina's congressional delegation will work to spare EPA's operation in RTP and the grants to area universities from cuts.
The EPA has been roiled by turmoil during its first week under Trump, as members of the transition team issued what it has described as a temporary freeze on all contract approvals and grant awards. Trump's representatives have instituted a media blackout, clapping down on media releases, social media posts and other external communications issued by career staff.
Trump's political appointees have also been scrutinizing reports and data published on the agency's websites for potential removal, especially details of scientific evidence showing that the Earth's climate is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.
Ebell, whose academic credentials are in philosophy and political theory, said Tuesday the purge is necessary because EPA's leaders under President Barack Obama "politicized" global warming and allowed activists within the agency to publish "junk science."
"We are definitely concerned about the signals we are getting from the Trump administration," said Rachel Weber, climate and energy organizer for Environment North Carolina. "There are a handful of science-based agencies that do work to protect our environment, to research climate change, to protect us from a changing climate, and ... those are the agencies being targeted by this new administration."
Trump's nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he disagreed with past statements by the president alleging that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to harm U.S. economic competitiveness. But like Trump, Pruitt has a long history of publicly questioning the validity of climate science.
Earlier this month, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a joint statement affirming that 2016 was officially the hottest year in recorded history, breaking prior records set in 2015 and 2014. Studies show the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, while the world's oceans have risen on average nearly 7 inches in the last century.