EPA uses posters to troll its own employees

Photo of EPA uses posters to troll its own employees

After almost a year of rolling back environmental regulations, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt is trying to instill a sense of accomplishment in the agency’s workforce.

The EPA is displaying a poster at its headquarters office in Washington titled “A Year of Great Environmental Achievements for America.” Late Wednesday, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton tweeted a photo of the poster. The list of achievements on the poster include moving to repeal the “so-called Clean Power Plan”; reviewing and revising the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rulemaking; “cleaning up contaminated sites”; “confidence in American families”; and “certainty for the American economy.”

The poster campaign is part of an effort to counter claims that Pruitt’s first year has been a disaster for environmental protection. “The posters speak for themselves and all EPA employees should take pride in the good work they’ve achieved this past year, and will continue to achieve over the next seven years,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Thursday in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

Pruitt has operated in secrecy over the past year under the assumption that many of the agency’s 14,100 employees are opposed to his regulatory rollback agenda. The agency has lost several hundred employees over the past year. Many of them have resigned in protest of the direction the EPA has taken under President Trump.

An EPA employee told ThinkProgress that she has not seen the same poster displayed at her regional EPA office. “Headquarters tends to bear the brunt of Pruitt’s ideological assault,” she said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Pruitt said he wants to use his second year on the job to speed up the process for granting permits to industry. “There’s tremendous opportunity to show really significant results to the American people in a really short time frame,” he said.

The only item on the list of achievements tied to a healthier environment is the reference to cleaning up Superfund sites, an action that Pruitt has stated is one of his top priorities. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, for example, Pruitt visited the San Jacinto River near Houston and surveyed a toxic waste site that had been added to the national priorities list of Superfund sites in 2008.

But Trump’s budget would slash funding for the Superfund program by nearly a third. In House testimony, Pruitt was asked how the agency could clean up these sites with less money. “It’s more about decision-making, leadership and management than money,” he said.

Otherwise, the EPA, under Pruitt, has focused on reducing the staff size of the agency and cutting regulations. Many of these attacks on the environment have escaped scrutiny because of the nonstop scandals and controversial statements that keep flowing from the White House, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“While President Trump continues to tweet whatever comes to mind, his administration has steadily pushed an anti-environmental agenda that benefits polluting companies at the expense of American families,” says the report, titled “While Trump Was Tweeting: Tracking the Trump Administration’s Attacks on Our Air, Water, and Public Lands.” (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

As the EPA leadership tout its achievements, Pruitt is under investigation for his questionable conduct in the top role at the agency. Pruitt has attracted widespread scrutiny for alleged misuse of agency funds, potential violation of a lobbying law, and holding secret meetings with officials from the industries his agency is tasked with regulating.

Poster on display at the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 office in Chicago on January 25, 2018. CREDIT: AFGE Local 704

Mike Mikulka, president of the American Federal of Government Employees Local 704, the union representing employees of EPA Region 5, said the EPA’s Chicago office has displayed similar posters — what he calls “propaganda posters” — touting what the agency views as achievements.

Mikulka said he doesn’t understand how the EPA’s leadership can call repealing the Clean Power Plan as an environmental achievement. “It’s a rollback of life-saving regulations,” he said in an interview.

The WOTUS rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, clarified the type of waters that are regulated by the federal government after various courts issued conflicting decisions. “When you then propose to review and potentially revise this, you have not achieved anything environmentally. All you’ve done is created regulatory uncertainty,” he said. “Where there was certainty on the Clean Power Plan, where there was certainty on the Waters of the United States rule, we’ve gone back to creating uncertainty. It’s the opposite of what they are claiming.”

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