Days before this week’s Alaska Forum on the Environment, the EPA said it’s sending half of the people who had planned to attend. The nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the EPA, is still pending confirmation. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
The Environmental Protection Agency’s presence at an environmental conference in Alaska this week was cut in half, after the Trump administration’s transition officials ordered the change. The agency had helped to plan the conference.
The abrupt change has reportedly created awkward scenes at the Alaska Forum on the Environment — particularly at events meant to highlight the EPA’s role in Alaska, a state known for both its pristine ecosystems and its oil production. From the Alaska Dispatch News:
“At a panel discussion Tuesday morning slated to include six EPA staff members discussing Alaska EPA grants, only two EPA officials were at the front of the room taking questions — many of which focused on how the agency might be changing.”
From Anchorage, Rachel Waldholz of Alaska Public Media reports for our Newscast unit:
“The Alaska Forum on the Environment draws more than a thousand people each year to discuss topics ranging from water and sewer systems to climate change. Thirty-four employees from the EPA were scheduled to attend.
“But forum director Kurt Eilo got a call just days before the conference opened, saying the delegation would be cut in half.
” ‘We were informed that EPA was directed by the White House transition team to minimize their participation in the Alaska Forum on the Environment to the extent possible,’ Eilo says.
“In a statement, EPA transition official Doug Ericksen said it was an effort to limit excessive travel costs, though some EPA staff who were told not to attend are based just blocks away in downtown Anchorage.”
For the EPA, the order to reduce staff numbers at the conference is the latest sign of a shift in priorities under a new president. Days after President Trump’s inauguration, Ericksen said the agency’s scientists will likely need to have their work reviewed on a “case by case basis” before it can be made public.
Trump’s nominee to head the EPA is Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has criticized — and repeatedly sued — the agency he’s now in line to head.
Pruitt’s nomination was advanced to the full Senate last week, after Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee refused to attend meetings that were meant to hold confirmation votes on Pruitt.
During his confirmation hearing weeks earlier, Pruitt said that his past actions had been made out of concern for his home state, and said if he were to lead the EPA, his decisions would be dictated by “the rule of law.”
Pruitt, who has questioned climate change, also sought to answer his critics, saying in a January hearing:
“Let me say to you, science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some matter impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. And well it should be.”