Mike Cox, a former EPA scientist who focused on water protection and greenhouse gas reductions, was with the agency as far back as 1987, under the Reagan administration. He retired in April, again with a powerful resignation letter that decried Pruitt’s denial of “fundamental climate science”.
“I had planned on retiring earlier because I figured someone would replace me and the work I was doing would continue,” he tells IFLScience.
“When that didn’t happen, I wondered if I should leave at all. People told me I couldn’t because if I did my job would be gone, and no-one would do that work – which was true, that’s exactly what happened.”
He explains that, after working under five administrations, what he experienced under the latest is nothing less than a creeping corruption of the agency’s mission.
“There’s an open hostility and a total lack of engagement towards staff – fundamentally different from the past, no matter if a Republican or Democrat was in charge,” Cox says.
“The most insidious thing is that the staff being brought on board by Pruitt are from James Inhofe's [close allies], the biggest climate denier in the American government.” Inhofe is arguably most infamous for bringing a snowball to the Senate floor in order to "disprove" global warming.
Cox explains how Inhofe has said that the EPA is "indoctrinating or brainwashing the youth of America" – and "he once compared the agency to a Gestapo bureaucracy."
“He’s said terrible, awful things – and now his staff are in charge of the EPA.”
We ask whether he thinks people still working there should stick around, hold out, and hope things change for the better. Cox explains that plenty of young researchers think that they’ve made a mistake, asking “What am I still doing here?” but he hopes that they remain.
Southerland is quick to point out that it’s not just the EPA’s scientists that are threatened by the White House – it’s all of them, across all departments and agencies.
“I don’t know where else EPA researchers would go,” she explains. “Every single environmental agency depends on the federal government to support their environmental programmes,” but Pruitt’s “draconian cuts” are also destroying jobs.