Among the myriad institutional panics that hit Washington, D.C., after the election last year, few were as swift as the one at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mere days after Donald Trump was elected, reports of emotional breakdowns at the EPA surfaced. According to an article at E&E News:
U.S. EPA employees were in tears. Worried Energy Department staffers were offered counseling. Some federal employees were so depressed, they took time off. Others might retire early.
And some employees are in downright panic mode in the aftermath of Donald Trump's victory.
“People are upset. Some people took the day off because they were depressed,” said John O'Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, a union that represents thousands of EPA employees. After Election Day, “people were crying,” added O'Grady, who works in EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago. “They were recommending that people take sick leave and go home.”
That was before the then-president-elect had even nominated anyone to head the agency. Once he did, the panic worsened.
Employees of the Environmental Protection Agency have been calling their senators to urge them to vote on Friday against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s contentious nominee to run the agency, a remarkable display of activism and defiance that presages turbulent times ahead for the EPA.
Many of the scientists, environmental lawyers and policy experts who work in EPA offices around the country say the calls are a last resort for workers who fear a nominee selected to run an agency he has made a career out of fighting — by a president who has vowed to “get rid of” it.
“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to EPA,” said John O’Grady, a biochemist at the agency since the first Bush administration and president of the union representing the EPA’s 15,000 employees nationwide.
The EPA was very active while working under the supportive Obama administration, generating thousands of new regulations.
Hyperbole aside, the reality is that Pruitt can't simply begin his new job by firing a lot of people. Former EPA administrator and New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman notes that he could move them into other positions, however:
Whitman predicted a standoff between career employees and their politically appointed bosses, noting that Pruitt will be blocked by legal Civil Service protections from immediately firing longtime employees but would likely be able to retaliate against them in other ways, such as shifting them to different jobs. The showdown could embolden the White House and Congress to change federal Civil Service laws.
Although the preemptive strike by EPA staff to prevent Pruitt's confirmation failed, the union plans to continue resisting whatever President Trump and Pruitt have planned for them:
We plan on more demonstrations, more rallies. I think you will see the employees’ union reaching out to NGOs and having alliances with them,” he added, referring to nongovernmental organizations. “We’re looking at working with PR firms.
Some EPA staffers have been engaging stealth activity to combat the president's agenda, prompting Republican lawmakers to request a probe into the agency's internal practices.
Despite plans expressed by the EPA's union, a congratulatory message went out on the agency's official Twitter account after the confirmation:
President Trump is expected to sign some executive orders pertaining to the agency in the coming days, according to Reuters.