PEER: Wheeler Should Relax Pruitt Chokeholds on EPA Operation

Washington, DC, July 10, 2018 — Andrew Wheeler should reverse restrictions by Scott Pruitt that hobble the ability of Environmental Protection Agency regional offices to function, urges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in a letter sent today.  In a series of moves, Pruitt had removed delegation to EPA regional offices for making decisions concerning enforcement, program administration, and even scientific research, requiring all such matters to be funneled through the Office of the Administrator.

Approximately one-half of EPA’s workforce (7,300 employees) work in EPA’s ten regional offices across the country. These offices traditionally handle the bulk of work involving sites and violations within each region.  During his tenure, Pruitt stripped these offices of authority to make key programmatic calls by –

  • Centralizing all civil prosecution referrals, taking final decision-making out of the hands of the regions;
  • In April of this year, assuming personal control over a range of key decisions under the Clean Water Act determining the preservation of streams, ponds and wetlands; and
  • In June 2017, taking charge of decision-making in all new Superfund cases and seizing control over all existing major cases (“sites with remedies estimated to cost $50 million or more”).
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“Scott Pruitt did not trust EPA career staff and did his best to marginalize thousands of highly qualified specialists,” stated PEER New England Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that the new Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler had worked at EPA following graduate school. “If Andrew Wheeler is to succeed, he must let the professional staff at EPA do their jobs.”

A key example of Pruitt control was his requiring that a political aide approve every EPA grant, including those for scientific research. Consequently, scientific work in areas such as climate change and pesticide effects on pollinators got axed.

In a letter to Wheeler today, PEER urges him to undo Pruitt strictures on regional offices and to return to a traditional division of labor where the Administrator sets policy while allowing the regions to implement policy and administer programs in the field.

“We urge Andrew Wheeler to end the reign of terror that was Pruitt’s hallmark and make some effort to inspire and empower his professional staff,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that Wheeler can send powerful signals of change without addressing policy. “While we do not know what Wheeler may do, thank goodness, Scott Pruitt is no longer the sphincter controlling environmental protection in the U.S.”
Read the PEER letter

Look at centralized Clean Water Act decision-making

View Pruitt’s assumption of all major Superfund decisions

See nosediving EPA enforcement