Troubled Agency Saw ‘Brain Drain’ Over the Trump Years
The Biden administration is asking Congress for more than $110 million to hire and support scientists and staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, which the previous president decimated.
The EPA lost almost 1,000 scientists and other employees under Donald Trump administrators Andrew Wheeler and Scott Pruitt.
The budget was cut yearly or stagnant for decades. In inflation-adjusted dollars, it was more than 50% higher under President Ronald Reagan than it is today.
“The 2022 budget proposal is an excellent first step in rebuilding EPA’s funding and strengthening the agency,” said Michelle Roos. She is executive director of the Environmental Protection Network of former EPA employees and appointees.
The proposed funding is part of $11.2 billion the Biden administration is asking to fund the EPA. The ask represents a 21% increase.
The Biden administration is also asking for $75 million to help designate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, as hazardous substances and set enforceable limits for the chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The poisons, made since the 1940s, are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for years. Designating the chemicals as hazardous substances would give the EPA more power to clean up contaminated sites.
The “announcement recognizes that science is at the core of all we do at the EPA,” said current EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
Betsy Southerland, who oversaw science and technology issues in the EPA Office of Water, told the House science committee’s investigations and oversight panel that the Biden administration should restore funding to bring EPA to its average over the past four decades. The cost to rebuild the budget over four years would be $11.4 billion in 2019 dollars.
Southerland was one of the EPA employees who left. She resigned in 2017, saying “the administration is seriously weakening EPA’s mission.”
About $48 million of the $110 million to hire EPA staff would go to the EPA Office of Air and Radiation to implement climate change programs under the Clean Air Act. The office is led by acting assistant administrator Joseph Goffman.
Bill Wehrum, who sued the agency at least 31 times as a corporate lawyer, headed that office for much of the Trump administration. Under Wehrum, who resigned in 2019 during a federal ethics investigation, the office worked to help coal-burning Martin Lake Power Plant in east Texas.
The plant spews out more sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain than any other power plant in America. Wehrum was a partner at a law firm that lobbied for the plant’s owner.