WASHINGTON (AP) — The former head of President Donald Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts.
Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that his specific recommendations to the White House remain confidential. But Ebell, who left the transition team last week, said it was reasonable to expect the president to seek a cut of about $1 billion from the EPA’s roughly $8 billion annual budget.
He also said Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency’s workforce, currently about 15,000 employees nationwide, with 8,000 of those in Washington. Ebell declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell replied that slashing the agency’s workforce by half would be a good start.
“President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA, or ‘leave a little bit,'” said Ebell, who has returned to his position as director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.
“I think the administration is likely to start proposing cuts to the 15,000 staff, because the fact is that a huge amount of the work of the EPA is actually done by state agencies. It’s not clear why so many employees are needed at the federal level,” he said.
EPA has been roiled by turmoil during its first week under Trump, as members of the transition team issued what it has described as a temporary freeze on all contract approvals and grant awards. Trump’s representatives have instituted a media blackout, clapping down on media releases, social media posts and other external communications issued by career staff.
Trump’s political appointees have also been scrutinizing reports and data published on the agency’s websites for potential removal, especially details of scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s climate is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.
Ebell, whose academic credentials are in philosophy and political theory, said Tuesday the purge is necessary because EPA’s leaders under President Barack Obama “politicized” global warming and allowed activists within the agency to publish “junk science.”
Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he disagreed with past statements by the president alleging that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to harm U.S. economic competitiveness. But like Trump, Pruitt has a long history of publicly questioning the validity of climate science.
Earlier this month, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a joint statement affirming that 2016 was officially the hottest year in recorded history, breaking prior records set in 2015 and 2014. Studies show the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, while the world’s oceans have risen on average nearly 7 inches in the last century.