Sunday, August 13, 2017

EPA staff say Pruitt practices extreme secrecy, cite paper for repeal of WOTUS rule as an example

When the Environmental Protection Agency followed through on President Trump’s promise to repeal the rule defining “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, deputies to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told career employees to justify the changes without making any records, report Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton of The New York Times.

The move on “WOTUS” was part of a pattern, they report: “Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees. . . . Pruitt’s penchant for secrecy is reflected not just in his inaccessibility and concern for security. He has terminated a decades-long practice of publicly posting his appointments calendar and that of all the top agency aides, and he has evaded oversight questions."

The WOTUS rule, enacted by the Obama administration, included wetlands and small tributaries. “It was fiercely opposed by farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers,” the reporters note. “The original estimate concluded that the water protections would indeed come at an economic cost to those groups — between $236 million and $465 million annually. But it also concluded, in an 87-page analysis, that the economic benefits of preventing water pollution would be greater: between $555 million and $572 million.”

EPA employees told the Times that Pruitt’s lieutenants told them to produce a new analysis excluding the benefits of protecting wetlands, and “They did what they were told,” said Elizabeth Southerland, who retired last month as a senior official in EPA’s water office.

“Southerland and other experts in federal rule-making said such a sudden shift was highly unusual — particularly since studies that estimate the economic impact of regulations can take months or even years to produce, and are often accompanied by reams of paperwork documenting the process,” the Times reports. “The mere fact they are telling people not to write things down shows they are trying to keep things hidden,” Jeffrey Lubbers, a professor of administrative law at American University, told the newspaper.

EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman “categorically denied the accounts employees interviewed for this article gave of the secrecy surrounding Mr. Pruitt,” the Times reports, quoting her: “None of this is true. It’s all rumors. . . . It’s very disappointing, yet not surprising, to learn that you would solicit leaks, and collude with union officials in an effort to distract from the work we are doing to implement the president’s agenda.”

Meanwhile, another EPA spokesperson, Jahan Wilcox, threatened to call "security" on reporters who wanted to see Pruitt while he was on the University of North Dakota campus for a private meeting with farmers, reports Andrew Hoeffner of the Grand Forks Herald.

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