As Florida braces for what may be the worst hurricane ever recorded in the Altantic, and Houston begins its decades-long recovery from Hurricane Harvey, the Environmental Protection Agency saw a mass exodus of 400 people this week. A majority of the employees accepted taxpayer funded buy-outs in wake of the Trump administration’s goal of gutting the agency.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the departures may put the agency’s staffing “at its lowest point in 30 years.” The WSJ reports:
The voluntary buyouts were offered in June to more than 1,200 workers. Almost a third of those eligible took the buyout and, coupled with a dozen retirements on Aug. 31, the agency trimmed its staff by about 2.5% in less than a week. Several dozen more workers could retire or opt to take the buyout later this month, which would cut EPA’s total number of employees to almost 14,400 workers, the lowest since 1988. Two years ago it had more than 15,500 employees nationwide.
“We’re giving long-serving, hardworking employees the opportunity to retire early,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment and American jobs.”
The EPA is facing budget cuts without any detailed plan or agency priorities while the threat of climate change continues to increase. Pruitt, a long-time climate change denier who refers to climate change as “the C-word,” even criticized scientists and politicians for expressing concern over the failure to address global warming in the wake of Harvey. “I think at this point to look at things like this and talk about a cause and effect isn’t really helping the people of Texas right now,” he told the white nationalist website Breitbart. “I think for opportunistic media to use this without basis or support to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion and not focus on the needs of people, I think is misplaced.” (He is very wrong, by the way).
It’s not year clear how the staff reductions will affect recovery efforts in Houston, but this doesn’t bode well. An EPA spokesperson told the WSJ that the buyout plan was designed to take natural disasters into account and therefore wouldn’t affect personnel response. But last week, the AP reported that several toxic waste sites in the area had flooded and the EPA was “not on the scene.” (The EPA panned the story as “incredibly misleading” and challenged the credibility of reporter. The AP defends the story.)
The House Energy Committee will be conducting an investigation into he buyouts to ensure it was “an efficient use of taxpayer money,” but if you have any information about the buyout or what the hell is going on at the EPA, get in touch.