The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hemorrhaging scientists. Either they’ve been a victim of the agency’s mass dismissals or – as a series of interviews with the Washington Post are highlighting – they’ve decided to retire themselves, having reached the end of their tether.
Just recently, one scientist officially registered himself as a whistleblower. He had been demoted to an accounting position after spending much of his career working on helping Native communities in Alaska adapt to climate change, and he said that the intent is to do this across the board, to get as many scientists to quit as possible.
Now, a new interview focuses on the plight of the former director of science and technology at the agency’s Office of Water. Dr Elizabeth Southerland had been working at the EPA for three decades, saying her work and the organization “has been the guiding light to make the ‘right thing’ happen for the greater good, including public health and safety.”
Now, with the anti-science President Trump and the climate science-denying Pruitt in power, she believes that this quest for public good is “not possible under the current administration.”
“There is no question, the administration is seriously weakening EPA’s mission by vigorously pursuing an industry deregulation approach and defunding implementation of environmental programs.”
She’s not wrong, of course. The EPA is removing most of its scientific advisory panel, and it’s constantly faced with major budget cuts that, for the most part, are being deflected by Congress. Scientists are being bullied by senior officials into changing their testimonies to authorities when it comes to how the organization is run.
The replacements for many of these highly qualified and environmentalist-focused scientists are embarrassments, handpicked by the Trump administration seemingly because of their pro-industry ties and lack of interest, or belief, in climate change. The EPA is becoming a monument to irony, and not much else right now.
Southerland has now joined the Environmental Protection Network, a bipartisan group of environmental scientists and advocates – along with plenty of former EPA employees. She’s effectively part of the Resistance.
Although her new appointment means she’ll still be putting all her award-winning research to good use, it’s deeply sad that it’s come to this. It must be a difficult choice for such scientists at the EPA and throughout the government: Do they stay and try and inject the voice of reason into a maelstrom of science denial, or do they cut their losses and fight from the outside?
Expect this sort of thing to continue for some time. As long as Pruitt remains at the helm, the EPA will continue to crumble.
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