Days after his confirmation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt began stacking his department with conservatives, many of them climate deniers and all of them eager to axe environmental regulations—much like President Donald Trump himself, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
To start, there's Ryan Jackson, former chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the most outspoken climate deniers in Congress, infamous for bringing a snowball into the chamber to illustrate that global warming was not real. Jackson will serve as Pruitt's chief of staff.
Then there's Byron Brown, another Inhofe staffer, who will now be Jackson's deputy.
Andrew Wheeler, formerly of Inhofe's team but now a fossil fuel lobbyist, is at the top of Pruitt's list to be deputy EPA chief, although he will require confirmation by the Senate.
And two Trump campaigners, Don Benton and Douglas Ericksen, are also taking on senior positions in the agency.
The Times' Coral Davenport writes:
To friends and critics, Mr. Pruitt seems intent on building an EPA leadership that is fundamentally at odds with the career officials, scientists, and employees who carry out the agency's missions. That might be a recipe for strife and gridlock at the federal agency tasked to keep safe the nation's clean air and water while safeguarding the planet's future.
It remains to be seen whether that kind of conflict will arise between Pruitt and EPA employees. Under Trump, the agency has already rolled back critical Obama-era regulations, effectively restricting the government's ability to prevent water pollution and collect data on methane emissions.
More anti-environmental plans and executive orders from Pruitt and Trump are expected to come this week as well. Meanwhile, the president's first draft budget includes a proposal to slash the EPA's annual funding by about 24 percent, or $2 billion.
EPA employees say morale has plummeted, particularly for those who helped strengthen regulations under former President Barack Obama and will now be ordered to undo their own work.
The changes have also come in more subtle ways. The day after Trump took office, WhiteHouse.gov scrubbed any mention of "climate change," and on Tuesday, the watchdog group Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) reported that the agency's Office of Science and Technology Policy no longer lists "science" in its own description.
"This is probably the most important thing we've found so far," EDGI's Gretchen Gehrke told the New Republic. "The language changes here are not nuanced—they have really important regulatory implications."