Scientists Speak Out About What's Going On Behind The Scenes At The EPA

Scott Pruitt's EPA is like none other. Zach Gibson/Stringer via Getty Images

Robin Andrews 12 Nov 2017, 16:36

“We take for granted that when we turn on the tap, someone has tested the water to make sure it’s safe and drinkable,” Trish Koman, a former EPA scientist, explains. “If you don’t have those basic things, the contract between the American people and its government will shatter.

“We’ve seen that here in Flint, Michigan. If this keeps happening, the public won’t trust what’s going on – and those connections, which are easy to pull apart, are very, very hard to rebuild.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in trouble. Scott Pruitt, the new administrator, has made it clear that there's a new sheriff in town.

Scientists are being let go and replaced by climate change deniers, coal lobbyists, or former petrochemical industry lawyers. Major federal carbon-cutting programs have been nixed. The phrase “climate change” wasn’t mentioned once in its latest four-year mission statement.

Major academic studies on air and water pollution are being shut down. Scientists are no longer allowed to influence policy at the agency. Climatologists may be forced to “debate” climate deniers live on TV in order to display a false equivalency. Doubt is regularly cast not just on whether or not humans are driving climate change, but whether carbon dioxide causes climate change at all.

This is what’s known from an outsider’s perspective. With transparency a thing of the past, it’s hard to understand what this dramatic changing of the guard is like from the inside – and that’s why we contacted former key scientists who worked at the EPA to tell us.

President Trump at the controls has proven to be disastrous for federal scientists. Gage Skidmore/Flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0

The President’s Secret Three-Page Plan

Betsy Southerland was the former director of science and technology at the Office of Water. She spent much of her 30-year-long career providing the science for, and implementing, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and several more designed to prevent marine pollution and oil spills.

If you have safe drinking water or live near rivers with fish safe to eat swimming through them, this is thanks to her department’s work. This summer, she resigned – with an eloquent, fiery letter to boot. In it, she described her heartbreak that the EPA cannot do the “right thing” under the Trump administration.

“I wrote that resignation letter because I really felt there was a clear and present danger to public health and safety by this administration,” she tells IFLScience. “I was afraid that people did not understand how serious this threat was.”

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