The Trump sledgehammer is coming down about as hard as it can on the Environmental Protection Agency -- no muscle spared.
The administration has been working overtime talking up Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the EPA -- no, not lead the EPA, rather savage it. By all accounts, they were running around Thursday delivering copies of Steve Milloy's "Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA" to key members of Congress.
In a telephone interview Thursday, a congressional aide told Sunshine State News, "It's so visible. In spite of the Democrats' opposition to Pruitt and their counter-maneuvers, the administration is putting its full weight behind him, more than they did for most nominees. I wouldn't bet against Scott Pruitt."
In fact, amid a Democrat boycott, Republicans in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday suspended committee rules in order to advance Pruitt's nomination.
The committee's approval now pushes his nomination to the full Senate floor for a vote. Republicans unanimously approved Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt with an 11-0 vote.
Pruitt is no mystery. He's built his political career on trying to tear down environmental protections. His official biography even states he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Pruitt has filed briefs in 14 lawsuits against the EPA. Although many of his cases have been dismissed by the courts, his critics say it’s worth considering "the impact if he had succeeded: 850,000 additional asthma attacks every year, 28,000 emergency room visits, and three million missed school days and work days."
But it is author Milloy, who runs the website Junkscience.com, who shapes the president's powerful case for Pruitt.
Milloy has chronicled the scientific and bureaucratic abuse at the EPA for two decades, and says he's thrilled by Trump’s plans to finally reform the EPA.
“I can think of no agency that has done more pointless harm to the U.S. economy than the EPA -- all based on junk science, if not out-and-out science fraud,” Milloy told National Review writer Julie Kelly. “I am looking forward to President Trump’s dramatically shrinking the EPA by entirely overhauling how the remaining federal EPA uses science.”
Milloy's book Scare Pollution is a pretty scathing analysis of an unelected body with clout that rivals the president's -- and a bad record that gets worse, the more encouragement it gets.
To say the author doesn't like these agency folks much is akin to saying the French didn't like the Nazis occupying Paris.
Here's what Milloy says in his book -- in a passage Magic-Markered in yellow in the copies that went to senators:
"The EPA has over the course of the last 20 years marshaled its vast and virtually unchallenged power into an echo chamber of deceptive science, runaway regulations and fatally flawed research derived from unethical human experiments.
"The EPA’s conduct runs the gamut from subtle statistical shenanigans to withholding key scientific data, from seeking to rubberstamp baseless research data to illegally spraying diesel exhaust up the noses of unsuspecting children and other vulnerable populations."
The signs are all there: Trump officials and Congress are ready to make major changes in the EPA.
A leaked memo written by Trump’s EPA transition team details how the new administration wants to tackle shoddy science at the agency. The memo asserts that the EPA should not be funding scientific research, and it must make any data publicly available for independent scientists to review. It also said that the agency must eliminate conflicts of interest and bias from the science advisory process.
The administration also put a freeze on most contracts and grants, pending further review by incoming staff. National Review reports, a good chunk of the EPA’s $8.3 billion budget is spent on grants to universities and units of government; its 2017 budget for state- and tribal-assistant grants was nearly $3.3 billion.
The agency also has nearly $6.4 billion in outstanding contractual obligations to dozens of companies across the country, dating back to 2001. These will get much-needed scrutiny over the next several months. Milloy insists it’s a necessary step:
"The EPA uses tax dollars to fund its friends and allies, who tend to be political activists and 'political' scientists. There has been no effective oversight of the EPA because Republicans have lacked the numbers and often the will to challenge the all-powerful EPA."
Milloy said he isn’t surprised by the scientific community’s apoplexy; his book details how the EPA funded nearly $600 million in bogus research to buttress the agency’s regulatory overreach:
"It’s all about the money," he said. "The EPA pays university scientists massive amounts of money to support its agenda and their institutions are more than happy to oblige by doing what the EPA wants, regardless of merit."
(Now I know where the Everglades Foundation got its operating model.)
Meanwhile, prior to Thursday's vote, Environmental Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said, "Elections have consequences and the new president is entitled to put in place members to complete his agenda. Now it is time to set up a functioning government. That includes a functioning EPA."
Democrats on Wednesday said they boycotted the vote because Pruitt had not answered questions they submitted to the nominee in writing.
"The committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt's responses to our questions for the record," Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the committee's ranking Democrat, wrote in a letter to Barrasso. "We believe these inquiries, and our questions for the record, elicit information from the nominee that he possesses and that he should be able to provide to the committee ... Failure on his part to do so is not only an affront; it also denies Democratic committee members, and all members of the Senate, information necessary to judge his fitness to assume the important role of leading the EPA."
Writer Kelly said scientists feel so threatened by the Trump administration that some are planning a protest this spring modeled after the Jan. 21 Women’s March.
Marching scientists in funny hats. That's a sight I won't want to miss.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith