Former EPA administrators speak at IU

By Anne Hedin

Two major champions of the environmental movement spoke at IU Bloomington in January: Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, and Janet McCabe, her colleague and EPA Acting Assistant Administrator, one of the lead architects of the Clean Power Plan.

If you missed Gina McCarthy’s feisty speech on January 18, there is a video recording online, thanks to the Environmental Resilience Institute. The ERI and the Concerned Scientists @ IU co-sponsored both McCarthy’s and McCabe’s appearances. McCabe is now IU’s Assistant Director for Policy and Implementation at the ERI and Professor of Practice at the McKinney School of Law, IUPUI.

In her talk on January 25, McCabe spoke of the greatest threats facing the EPA and shared her view of where the Concerned Scientists group could have the greatest impact. Approximately 50 top-level people at the EPA (and other agencies) serve at the pleasure of the president and come and go with the administration, she said, but the civil servants and scientists remaining serve the mission of the agency. What is happening to them is a cause of great concern to her.

The EPA budget office has been cut 50%, to the detriment of funding for science.  Morale is down and retirements – even from senior career positions – have increased. After one year in office, President Trump does not have a Science Advisor. The staff that carries on in the absence of a Science Advisor numbers 40 people. By contrast, Obama had a staff of 130 people in that office. EPA research used to be the gold standard in the courts and with policy makers. McCabe is worried that personnel losses and funding cuts will erode the credibility of EPA research. And what will happen to grad students and young scientists when grants go away?

McCabe’s advice to the scientists in the audience was to provide comments on proposed environmental rules, especially in areas such as clean fuel standards that the Trump administration has targeted. By law, the EPA has to respond to technical comments, to give reasons for accepting or rejecting them, and to cite evidence. Job impacts belong in the comments as well. By engaging in this fashion, scientists outside the agency can help ensure that proposed rules get the necessary level of scrutiny, thereby carrying some of the load for scientists inside the agency.

At the state level, for example, Indiana is scheduled to get $41 million from the Volkswagen emissions settlement, which is to be spent on mitigating damage due to burning diesel. McCabe urged the audience to look at a draft rule on the matter that IDEM (Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management) has just posted for public comment.

The role of scientist as citizen is more important than ever. McCabe recommended going to hearings and legislative meetings, writing op-eds and letters to the editor. Multiply your impact by volunteering to help the Hoosier Environmental Council analyze data and formulate talking points. Leverage resources such as the Environmental Protection Network which focuses on budget documents and Denver-based Save EPA Alums which offers advice on rule-making and procedural matters.

Last but not least: Keep doing science and keep the faith on the Clean Power Plan.  The EPA’s  2009 Endangerment finding that greenhouse gases are pollutants has been challenged and upheld in court. So long as it remains in force, carbon dioxide has to be regulated.

Anne Hedin is the editor of the Time to Choose newsletter.

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