Four former Environmental Protection Agency administrators told Congress yesterday the agency’s core mission to protect public health and the environment is being undermined by the people who are running it.
In a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, the administrators, including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, urged the panel to exercise more oversight over EPA’s actions to roll back environmental protections, particularly regarding its continuing denial of and failure to address climate change.
“There is no doubt that EPA is retreating from its mission,’’ Whitman, who served under President George W. Bush, told the committee. Her concerns were echoed by Gina McCarthy, who served under President Barack Obama, Lee Thomas who served under President George H.W. Bush, and William Reilly, an administrator for President Ronald Reagan.
The hearing marked an unusual bipartisan rebuke from the people who have run the agency under both Republican and Democratic presidents. It follows an earlier letter from seven former EPA administrators, urging increased oversight of the agency by congressional committees.
Together, they lamented the federal agency ceding its global leadership position in protecting the environment, its diminishment of the role of science in safeguarding public health, and the lack of transparency in establishing policies. They also accused the administration of bending to industry-friendly interests.
“I’m tired of hearing when decisions are announced how much it has reduced manufacturers’ costs,’’ said McCarthy, who argued public health and environmental protections ought to be weighed more heavily when deciding policy issues.
Those policies including rolling back regulations to curb global-warming emissions from power plants, requiring auto manufacturers to build cleaner cars, and reducing mercury and a variety of air toxics from coal and other power plants.
Perhaps, most of all, they are disappointed with the agency’s decision to pull back from addressing climate change, including efforts to silence EPA employees and others about how humans are contributing to rising sea levels, record high temperatures, and year-round wildfire seasons.
“It won’t go away because we are not talking about it,’’ said Whitman. “We are not going to stop climate change, but we need to know how we can slow it down.’’
Oceans bear the brunt of climate change, Whitman argued. Rising sea levels threaten up to 35 cities around the country, including nine in New Jersey, according to a recent study, she said. Coral reefs are dying and there is growing acidification of the world’s oceans, as well as increased coastal flooding.
“There is no doubt in my mind that under the current administration the EPA is retreating from its historic mission to protect our environment and the health of the public from environmental hazards,’’ Whitman said in prepared remarks to the subcommittee.
Rep. Frank Pallone, the Democratic congressman from New Jersey’s 6th District and chairman of the House committee, echoed her remarks at the opening of the hearing. Citing historic flooding, record high temperatures, and rising sea levels, Pallone said “the Trump administration is failing to rise to the challenge’’ facing the agency.