The Trump administration is considering eradicating the enforcement arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reported Inside EPA late Wednesday.
The administration is deciding whether to shutter the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) and force individual program offices to take over all enforcement duties, a "source familiar with the plan" told Inside EPA.
"Closing the office would almost certainly mean less enforcement work happens at the agency," explained the Huffington Post:
OECA handles both civil and criminal enforcement of the country's core environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The office is an independent body with about 3,000 employees who "work to advance environmental justice by protecting communities most vulnerable to pollution."
"Dissolving OECA would have a disastrous effect on EPA's ability to do its job," said Nicholas Conger, who served as communications director for OECA from July 2013 through March 2016 and later worked in the EPA administrator’s public affairs office. Conger is now the press secretary of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Americans depend on a strong federal enforcement presence, and that depends on having a program that is directly focused on holding polluters accountable and ensuring they fix their problems."
The plan to shutter the OECA is similar to Scott Pruitt's 2011 efforts to close his agency's environmental enforcement office during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general, observers note.
Pruitt, who is President Donald Trump's nominee to head the EPA, has been widely condemned by environmentalists as well as former EPA officials, and was sued this week for hiding his correspondence with fossil fuel companies.
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"Scott Pruitt endangered the health and welfare of Oklahomans when closed his own environmental enforcement unit there, and now it looks like he wants to do the exact same thing at the EPA, imperiling families across America," said Liz Perera, Sierra Club climate policy director, in a statement. "Corporate polluters are not going to wake up and suddenly start policing themselves simply because Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt don't care what happens to our air and water."
Another source who spoke to Inside EPA further explained that by moving enforcement to program offices—which are tasked with taking input on and revising regulations—enforcement of environmental regulations will become political.
"[C]ollapsing these two functions ... into one office headed by a political appointee for the regulatory office is quite dangerous and fundamentally threatens enforcing protections," the source said.
In fact, Trump, a climate change denier, has appeared eager to politicize the EPA's work, earning a comparison to Stalin after the president ordered political vetting of EPA research before it is made public.
Just this week, the administration took the unprecedented step of sharply limiting the number of EPA employees allowed to travel to a conference in Alaska where climate change would be discussed.
Moreover, the anti-regulation head of the EPA transition, former Washington state senator Don Benton, will also be staying on to play a permanent role in the agency, Inside Climate News reported Wednesday. Benton took over the EPA transition, which was previously overseen by climate change denier Myron Ebell, after Trump's inauguration.
Meanwhile, groups are fighting back against the assault on regulations with a lawsuit filed Wednesday to combat Trump's "one in, two out" executive order gutting regulations nationwide. "When presidents overreach, it is up to the courts to remind them no one is above the law and hold them to the U.S. Constitution," an attorney for Earthjustice said, as Common Dreams reported. "This is one of those times."