It was somewhat acerbic, as is Gary Trudeau’s style.
In January 1982, the “Doonesbury” cartoonist placed an incidental character, an Environmental Protection Agency staffer, on the ledge of an office building, promising to jump unless then-EPA head Anne M. Gorsuch (a Reagan appointee) agreed that “the purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the environment.”
As Orwellian as things seemed then, they were worse during the Trump administration, when the agency seemed to exist only to facilitate business interests and to dismantle itself.
But there’s a new EPA head in town. North Carolina has loaned Goldsboro native and N.C. A&T graduate Michael Regan, the former top environmental enforcer for the state, to the essential federal organization. We feel confident that he’ll be able to turn the EPA ship around.
He’s started by reaffirming the EPA as an institution that bases its decisions on science rather than commercial exploitation.
“Scientific integrity is a foundational value for EPA,” Regan said during an interview last week. “And I am committing to ensuring that every single decision we make meets rigorous scientific standards.”
Restoring public confidence in the EPA is another top goal, Regan said. “And I think to do that, we have to identify and root out any decisions from the past that were not properly aligned with science,’’ he said.
Some of the decisions made by the previous administration included cutting regulations — including portions of the long-standing Clean Water Act — and reducing enforcement against polluters. Ultimately, this approach endangered the health of Americans.
Previous policies also led to the decimation of the EPA itself — about 10% of the EPA’s work force either quit or was fired. Morale among the ranks was at rock-bottom.
Two important committees — the Science Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee — were relieved of scientific advisers who were replaced by representatives of the chemical and fossil fuel industries.
Along the way, information about climate change and green energy was scrubbed from the EPA website.
It was an attack on the EPA’s mission, on science and on the environment itself.
Under the Biden administration, this damage is being reversed. Over 40 Trump appointees to those important panels have been fired and the missing website information has been restored.
Those ousted can apply to keep serving, but Regan will make the final selections for the composition of the panels.
“Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment,” Regan said last week.
These changes aren’t just the result of a typical administration turnover. Before the election last year, six former EPA chiefs who served under presidents from both parties backed a comprehensive set of recommendations, written by a bipartisan group of former EPA staffers, that would “reset” the agency and pull it back from the ledge, as it were. Their recommendations range from renouncing political influence in regulation to boosting climate-friendly electric vehicles.
Their recommendations will fit much more comfortably in an administration that sees the value in environmental conservation.
Of course, despite Regan’s statements, political influence is inevitable; we should be under no illusion that the new administration will be 100% pure.
But we still expect improvements from the depths to which the agency sank. And we’re confident that Regan will do his best to protect and preserve this land and its resources, which we’re borrowing from our grandchildren.
We should give it back to them in pristine condition.